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Park rangers say they feel unsafe, union files request to carry guns

Sterling State Park is one of Michigan's 103 state parks, overseen by park rangers who have filed a request to carry guns and wear protective gear on the job.
user Dwight Burdette

The Michigan State Employees Association filed a complaint with the state on June 29, claiming state park officers should be able to carry guns and wear bulletproof vests on the job.

MSEA president Ken Moore cites an increase in illegal activities — such as drug use and gang violence — in state parks since 2006 as the reason. He says his members feel unsafe on the job.

Moore mentions specific instances such as a recent gathering of about “30 disgruntled youths doing illegal activity” in Pontiac Lake Recreational Area, and what he called "gang activity" at Grand Haven State Park in July 2017.

“The inner city has a disrespect for law enforcement,” Moore says. “The ultimate goal for me [is to] make sure that my folks, my membership has sufficient tools to do the jobs they were hired to do.”

Ed Golder, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, says that while there may be isolated incidents, it is not true that crime has been increasing in the state parks.

In response to the complaint that has been filed with MiOSHA, Golder says, “The safety of our employees and the general public is of paramount importance to the department, so we’re constantly evaluating safety measures for employees.”

There are currently 288 commissioned park rangers working in Michigan. These officers carry pepper spray, batons, handcuffs, and communications radios.

In contrast, conservation officers, who can sometimes be stationed in state parks, undergo more extensive training and are allowed to carry guns. The number of conservation officers has increased from 172 in 2013 to 226 in 2018. There are plans to open a new Conservation Officer Academy in the next few weeks, which would bring that number up to 252—the highest it has been in recent history, according to Golder.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be reviewing the MSEA’s complaint.