(CN) — A Los Angeles City Council committee approved a plan Tuesday to arm park rangers patrolling city-run parks.
The motion, put forward by City Councilman Joe Buscaino, passed by a vote 2-1. Councilman John Lee, the only non-Democrat on LA City Council — the former Republican is currently registered as "no party preference" — joined Buscaino in voting yes. Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the westside of LA and is among the more progressive members of City Council, voted no.
There are only 28 park rangers employed by the city of LA, tasked with patrolling 444 city-run parks, including the 4,310-acre Griffith Park and Elysian Park, which encircles Dodger Stadium. They receive the same six-month training that LAPD officers do, including firearm training.
LA park rangers may carry guns when they are off duty, but cannot take weapons into city parks. When rangers encounter a violent situation on duty, they must call an LAPD officer for help. Some city parks are patrolled by armed private security officers, contracted by the city or by City Council offices.
The rangers have been campaigning to carry guns since 1996. Other park rangers in the LA area, including those who patrol state and federal parks, as well as rangers for neighboring cities like Burbank, carry firearms.
"This is for the protection of our park rangers, so they can go home every evening," LA Park Ranger Chief Joe Losorelli told the committee.
Buscaino, a former LAPD officer who's running for mayor, introduced the motion back in Feb. 2020. The motion was blocked in committee until recently, when Buscaino was appointed to it.
Rangers, said Buscaino, "are faced with the same type of situations that call for the use of lethal weapons" as cops are. "I don’t see the logic here."
Bonin expressed astonishment at the idea.
"I’m struck by the argument that we need to arm rangers because otherwise they need to call the cops and wait," he said. "That’s true, but so does everyone else. If having to call the cops is a justification for somebody being armed, are we going to, next month, start talking about arming parking attendants? Are we going to start talking about arming librarians?"
Dozens of callers phoned into the meeting to comment on the motion. The vast majority of them spoke in opposition of the plan.
"Parks are not meant to for people roaming around with guns, whether they’re a park ranger or not," said Melinah Abdullah, a professor and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles. "We want to preserve our parks for recreation."
Others called the idea "unbelievably ridiculous," said it made them feel "scared" and that it runs counter to the prevailing political climate in Los Angeles.
Some activists, including Abdullah, have called for the LAPD and the LA County Sheriff's Department to be defunded. Other, more moderate voices have asked the city to reduce the number of situations that armed police officers interact with the general public. Some have called for traffic stops to be turned over to a different agency. Others say social workers should respond to mental health calls.
In 2020, in the wake of nationwide protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer, the LA City Council voted to cut its police budget by $150 million. Many of the council members said it was time to "reimagine public safety." But homicides and shootings have surged over the last two years, and this year the council raised LAPD's budget by about $50 million.
A number of public commenters did express support for arming park rangers.
"Everyone keeps talking about Griffith Park," said one man, who identified himself as African-American. "In minority communities, we want the park rangers to carry guns."
"The police need to protect themselves," another caller said. "We have too many guns out there in the wrong hands."
The motion will next move to a vote by the full City Council. Four other councilmen — Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Bob Blumenfield and Gil Cedillo — have previously expressed support for the move. That means it would need only two more votes to secure a majority on the 15-member council.
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