The union representing more than 300 Michigan state park officers says they should be allowed to have guns and bulletproof vests to handle unruly visitors.
The Michigan State Employees Association says officers are in an unsafe work environment because of a lack of training and equipment. The union has filed a complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Officials with the MSEA say rangers have been called to keep the peace during fights and riots, taking on the job of a typical city police officer but without being issued a sidearm, taser, soft body armor, or the proper communication equipment.
“The climate in our state park systems has changed. Our society is changing. The exposure to the drug activity the alcohol abuse, the marijuana exposure that the department has given guidance to turn a blind eye to. I had a park officer assaulted just last week and it took 18 minutes to get a response for backup. That’s that close to loss of life,” says President of the Michigan State Employees Association, Ken Moore.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources spokesman Ron Olson says the current structure of the ranger program has been working well for the past 30 years. However they’re willing to look at the safety concerns raised by the union. He contested the union’s allegations that the number of incidents at state parks is escalating or that parks are unsafe.
Michigan has 320 state park officers who train for 7 weeks and are equipped with pepper spray, batons and handcuffs. It also has about 220 conservation officers, who train for 22 weeks and are allowed to carry guns.