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To combat spike in gun violence, Portland sends out unarmed park rangers

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Image Source: The City of Portland

City council members in the liberal bastion of Portland, Oregon, decided this week to address a recent surge in gun violence not by increasing the city's police presence — but by doubling the number of unarmed park rangers on patrol.

What are the details?

There have been more than 250 shootings in Portland since the start of 2021 — up from just 111 during the same time period last year. Feeling pressure from the community to do something, on Wednesday, the city council decided to throw $6 million at the problem.

But according to the newly issued ordinance, none of that money is slated to go to the Portland Police Bureau. Instead, the council plans to give $4 million to various community outreach groups and $1.4 million to the city's Park Ranger Program to combat the gun violence.

With the money, an additional 24 additional rangers will be hired to "provide a positive, unarmed community safety presence in Portland's parks and surrounding neighborhoods." The new hires will double the regular size of the program.

"Park Rangers are not sworn law enforcement officers," the council stated. But they do have the authority to issue citations for park rule violations, which reportedly range from vandalism to carrying weapons.

They "use a combination of education and positive engagement to reduce harm to park resources and the visitor experience," the council added. "When voluntary compliance cannot be gained, exclusions or ejections may be used, as well as civil penalties in limited cases."

The new plan aims to "build real trust with the communities and families impacted by gun violence" and show a "clear alignment around the goal of community-centered safety transformation," the ordinance read.

What else?

Responding to news of the plan, Portland for Positive Impact founder Randy Philbrick said, "My personal feeling is this is what happens when you have public safety policy created by people with zero public safety experience."

He argued that criminals will not be persuaded toward de-escalation by the rangers but that, in fact, the new ordinance puts those rangers directly in harm's way with no way to protect themselves.

"I know the level of respect they won't get as we've already seen this week with a couple park rangers getting a Taser pulled on them, so we're setting these guys up for failure," he said.

Anything else?

But it's not only Philbrick who thinks the plan may be a bit ill-advised. The union representing Portland park rangers evidently is concerned, as well, as this week it demanded that rangers on patrol be supplied with body armor.

"In the last year, there has been an increased sense of hostility toward city employees," wrote local union organizer Ted Bryan. "We are worried by the number of assaults, attempted assaults, threats and harassment toward parks staff, including rangers."

In response, Bryan demanded that the council provide rangers with "Level II-A body armor to protect them from projectiles and stab threats."

What do the Portland Park Rangers do? youtu.be

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