Park bd. takes aim at ranger rifle plan
Written by PETER KUEBECK Sentinel Staff Writer
Tuesday, 13 November 2012 09:37
What role should a park ranger play?
Should they be there to enforce the laws, or serve as a source of information for park patrons?
As the topic of whether Wood County Park Rangers should be permitted to carry assault rifles gained steam at Monday's Park Board meeting, the reasoning behind what function a ranger should take took center stage.
Last month, rangers presented a proposal for the 2013 budget that would replace their current shotguns with AR-15 semi-automatic rifles. They asserted that the weapons, in addition to providing less legal liability than the shotguns if fired, would also be more practical when rangers are required to dispatch rabid animals (use of the shotguns at close range can cause a biohazard situation in such cases, and also expose a ranger to injury) - and would also serve rangers better in cases of a possible active shooter situation.
Rangers can be called upon as first responders to such law enforcement issues, and all receive the same training as a sheriff's deputy.
Board member Frank McLaughlin, at Monday's meeting, voiced his concerns with what he termed the "escalation of the rangers' weapons."
Noting his discussions with county officials, he said that this brought up questions as to the role of the rangers in the parks.
"This wasn't exactly what they had planned for for the ranger service."
Park Director Neil Munger, who himself served as a county park ranger, noted that the proposed rifles "are actually a safer weapon" than firearms carried by rangers previously.
"They are certified peace officers in the state," he explained, saying that they protect and preserve the parks and are called upon by other agencies as backup.
Board member Robert Callecod noted the dichotomy of the rangers' place within the parks.
"Are they policemen, or are they safety people there to assist and inform the park users, and I respect both sides of that."
Callecod suggested that the Park District re-evaluate the rangers' function and purpose.
"Wood County is a pretty nice place to live. We don't have high crime, we don't have a lot of problem people."
Noting a conversation with Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, he said that sheriff's deputies are available to assist in dangerous cases, and that rangers should not need to be called upon.
"Quite a bit of the budget is dedicated to the ranger program, to law enforcement," Callecod observed, stating he preferred rangers take more of a service role, as opposed to enforcement.
Member John Calderonello questioned whether rangers have the requisite training for action dealing with a shooter.
"I think times have changed," Park Board Vice-Chair Mary Krueger said. In today's world the situations, and potential crimes, that a ranger might encounter on their rounds are vastly different than in previous years. Additionally, she feared that the response time of a sheriff's deputy to a problem area might not be fast enough.
"I just really struggle with what the answer is."
"The problem is response time," agreed Munger. As to whether the parks have faced issues with firearms, he said that "no, we have not had problems before, that doesn't mean we can't have them."
Calderonello noted that the individuals he has spoken with on the issue were "horrified" by the prospect of rangers carrying assault weapons.
"It's a perception," said Callecod. "That's what bothers me, is the perception. And I'm not sure it's appropriate for the Wood County Park District."
The members agreed to strike the line item for the weapons from next year's budget, and to make examining the role of rangers in the parks a priority.
In other business, the board:
• Heard that the Park District was awarded a $97,032 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Recreational Trail Grants program for a trail at the newly-created Black Swamp Preserve near Kenwood School. The trail will link with the Slippery Elm Trail, and will also connect to the City of Bowling Green's planned bicycle trail.
• Heard that the Park District will likely take possession of the newly-acquired St. Clair property near the center of the Bradner Preserve by Jan. 18.
• Agreed to again lease farmland on the Bradner Preserve to the Wagner brothers, who have farmed the land in recent years, for the sum of $175 an acre. There are nearly 62 acres of farmland on the preserve.
• Heard a long series of capital improvements planned for county parks next year, including sidewalk replacement and boardwalk redecking at the W. W. Knight Nature Preserve in Perrysburg; tree planting and fence repair at the Wood County Historical Center and Museum; the construction of a parking lot and restroom for the Slippery Elm Trail; and building restoration and other work at the Carter Historic Farm.
• Went into executive session for the purpose of discussing a personnel matter.
Board Chair Joe Long was absent from the meeting.