ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Shawn Benge, deputy director for operations of the National Park Service (NPS), told the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks May 26, “To enhance public transparency in law enforcement…provide objective evidence and document officers’ actions while performing their duties, the NPS has worked to develop a robust body-worn camera program for its officers.”
He said that, as of March, more than 1,000 body-worn cameras were in use in NPS sites across the country. There are 423 such sites, including 63 national parks.
Law enforcement rangers in Acadia have been wearing body cameras and using in-car cameras since 2014, according to Chief Ranger Therese Picard.
“I think they are helpful in that they provide a sense of accountability for everybody on the scene, to know there’s a camera rolling,” she said. “That helps with the public trust.”
She said the camera footage also is useful when cases go to court.
“The prosecutor is able to watch the videos of whatever stops we make and truly know what happened,” she said. “So, the cameras help all around, both for the public and with our officers; it increases our professionalism.”
Benge, the NPS deputy director, told the Senate subcommittee that the agency recently recruited a class of law enforcement rangers who will start their careers at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Traditionally, each law enforcement ranger candidate had to pay to attend a seasonal training academy and then had to work several seasonal positions before being hired for a permanent job. “This removes a barrier to access for potential candidates,” Benge said of the new program. “It was marketed widely to create a large and diverse applicant pool. Over 2,000 applications were received for the class of 24 participants.
“We expect programs such as this will help us to continue to recruit, hire, train and retain a professional law enforcement workforce that reflects the diversity of America.”
Picard said she was involved in reviewing the resumes of some of the applicants for the new program.
“It was fantastic to see the wide breadth of experience and cultures and personalities,” she said. “It certainly is a good initiative to add to the tools we have for hiring. I think it will help bring in folks who would not consider working for the park service under the current system.
“Part of the reason for the diversity push by the park service is that we are really starting to see a new population visit the parks, a more diverse population, which is fantastic,” Picard said.
“One of the challenges we’re seeing, though, is that they’ve had no experience in a park, so they aren’t always prepared for the hike they might be doing, or they don’t understand the leave-no-trace principle. So, overall, that requires a little bit more assistance and attention from us.”
Picard said that, like almost everything else, law enforcement has been affected by events of the past year.
“The world changed a lot with COVID and with George Floyd’s death,” she said, referring to the Black man who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.
“I think policing is a more challenging field and takes a lot of commitment. So, I am really appreciative of my staff, who have made that commitment to public service.
“Here at Acadia, we continue to train on implicit bias, on de-escalation tactics. That has always been ongoing, but with a bigger emphasis over the last year.”