SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – The union representing the United States Park Police who patrol San Francisco’s national parks stated “families should avoid unnecessary travel to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Presidio” — just days ahead of Memorial Day Weekend.
Kenneth Spencer, the chairman of the U.S. Park Police Fraternal Order of Police, stated May 24 in a press release that “with the Memorial Day holiday weekend here, millions of American families are putting the final touches on their summer vacation plans. It saddens me to say that those plans should not include visits to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area or the Presidio because, simply put, they are not safe.”
The statement is a very public surfacing of a labor dispute between the union and the National Park Service, which oversees the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It also comes comes as concern about crime in San Francisco has become a topic of national concern, fueling next month’s recall election of District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
For its part, the National Park Service disputes the assertion, saying it doesn’t “represent the facts or reality on the ground.”
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area includes several sites in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin counties, including Alcatraz Island, China Beach, Fort Funston, Fort Mason, Lands End, the Presidio, Ocean Beach, the Sutro Baths, Fort Baker, Marin Headlands, Muir Woods, Stinson Beach and Mori Point.
Spencer said the reason parks aren’t safe is “an officer staffing crisis at the agency’s San Francisco Field Office.” Spencer said that there are only 11 patrol officers to secure the area on a 24/7 basis, but the “massive area” of San Francisco’s national parks requires at least 83 officers.
“As a result, the thousands of families and tourists who visit areas like Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, Fort Funston, and Ocean Beach are dangerously vulnerable almost all the time,” Spencer said.
According to Spencer, Park police patrol officer’s salaries start at $67,769 — far lower than the starting San Francisco Police Department salary of $92,560. He suggested people visit Yosemite instead.
The National Park Service’s public information office disputed the assertion that its parks aren’t safe.
“We are disappointed to see these misleading claims that don’t represent the facts or reality on the ground,” the statement reads. “[US Park Police] current staffing in San Francisco includes patrol officers, detectives, identification technicians, canine officers, and horse mounted officers, all of whom work to keep the public safe, protect, parks, and provide public service as sworn law enforcement officers. In addition to USPP, law enforcement national park rangers also patrol parks and respond to emergencies on national park lands in San Francisco and Marin and San Mateo Counties.”
Nonetheless, the NPS conceded that park police and the service as a whole have “seen a decrease in staffing over the last decade.”
“Restoring staffing capacity across the National Park Service is a priority of NPS leadership and is reflected in the 2022 and 2023 NPS budget requests,” the statement concludes.
The union was created in the mid-1990s to represent park police privates, technicians, investigators and detectives. It does not speak for the U.S. Park Police itself.
President Joe Biden’s budget for the coming fiscal year hasn’t yet been approved by Congress. The offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Alex Padilla (D-California) did not respond to immediate requests for comment Thursday morning.