Park rangers could be making a comeback in Jackson
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Park rangers could soon be making a comeback in the capital city.
At budget deliberations this week, the Jackson City Council agreed to set aside approximately $350,000 to pay for the program, which would provide salaries and benefits for up to five officers.
“We have to make our constituents feel safe. Having park rangers will make a big difference,” Council President Aaron Banks said.
Banks pointed to numerous cases of vandalism to back up the need for the rangers, including numerous copper thefts at Forest Hill Park.
Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade told council members he agreed with their decision 100 percent, pointing to additional vandalism and theft at Jayne Avenue Park.
“That track out there, I go out there myself, sometimes in the evening. That field house, that concession stand, is open right now because of break-ins,” he said. “They continue to break in at that location.”
Wade said the rangers would fall under the Jackson Police Department and would be certified law enforcement officers, meaning they could make arrests and enforce city ordinances.
“They were not just somebody we gave a uniform and a badge to, they were actually law enforcement-certified police officers,” he said. “They can do traffic enforcement, they can make arrests within the parks or anywhere near the parks, they can affect an arrest.”
“As you know we have people on four-wheelers and dirt bikes who tear up our parks. You need to make sure that we have people with enforcement power, where they can issue citations, they can make an arrest, they can tow a vehicle. They would have the authority to do that.”
Park rangers with less than 10 years of experience earn between $45,000 and $48,000 a year. Park rangers with 10 years or more would earn $51,000.
The city’s park ranger program ended years ago after the last ranger retired.
It was not clear why the program was not continued, despite its success.
“It was a great concept, and it worked tremendously well for us when we had park rangers that were at Battlefield, that were at Grove Park, in a different location,” Wade said. “That prevented vandalism but also made our parks safe [for] people who came to the parks to play basketball, football, and baseball.”
Ward Four Councilman Brian Grizzell said the park ranger program was a good way for JPD to acclimate new officers with different parts of Jackson.
“They just didn’t sit in the park all day. They also helped... police the neighborhood,” he said. “There was a lot more focus on community policing. People knew the officers. There were some good relationships out of the community.”
Wade said it also could be good for officers looking to come out of retirement. He told council members several retired officers are looking to come back to the force full-time and said assigning them to a park might be an appropriate fit.
Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay asked whether Capitol Police could also help patrol the parks, saying they already patrol the Museum Trail.
“We’re just trying to think of the many partnerships and... agreements we might reach to be able to grow the number of eyes on our parks,” she said.
Wade said he had just attended a public safety forum, where Capitol Police Chief Bo Luckey said his officers were only able to enforce state statutes, not city ordinances.
“So, you may run into an issue when you’re talking about policing our city parks,” he said. “That’s going to be a major issue for them. So, I don’t know what an MOU will look like. But even today, he was adamant that they do not enforce city ordinances. So, it would be incumbent on us to enforce those.”
The council is expected to adopt a budget on September 7.
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