The police union for the National Park Service warns tourists are “not safe” in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but reading between the lines, this seems like a plea for more funding.
We cannot emphasize enough that police departments and police department unions are not the same thing. Police unions play a clever rhetorical trick by not calling themselves ”unions,” instead preferring to call themselves “officers associations” or “fraternal orders.” We see this in San Francisco, where the SF Police Officers Association often makes unhinged proclamations that do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the department itself.
And we’re seeing this now again with the U.S. Park Police, who here in the Bay Area are sworn to protect and serve within the specific jurisdiction of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (whose San Francisco components include the Presidio, Baker Beach, Fort Funston, Crissy Field, the new Presidio Tunnel Tops, and more.) Their union is called the United States Park Police Fraternal Order of Police. And that union is proclaiming that tourists should stay away from all these local national parks, claiming they are “not safe” right now because of low staffing rates, per the SF Chronicle.
“With the Memorial Day holiday weekend here, millions of American families are putting the final touches on their summer vacation plans,” the union’s chair Kenneth Spencer said in a statement. “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 Chronicle asked specifically what was unsafe. “Whether your car is broken into, your wallet is taken from your beach towel, or even if you simply get sick and need emergency care, the lack of available officers spells disaster for innocent tourists and families,” Spencer told the Chron.
The National Park Service itself disputes the assessment. “The safety of our staff and visitors is always our top priority and park areas remain open and available to the public we serve, especially during the last few years of this difficult pandemic,” Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) spokesperson Charlie Strickfaden told the Chronicle.
It seems true that park police staffing levels are low, and about half of what the union claims they should be. And they do have a point in that park police salaries start at about $25,000 a year less than SFPD salaries. There is a bill before Congress to ramp up these officers’ pay grade steps, and that may be what this is all about.
“We want to get Speaker Pelosi’s attention,” Spencer told the Chronicle. “We want to work with (her) on this. She loves the Presidio, we love the Presidio and we want to be able to do our job. We’re hoping she steps in.”
The namecheck of Pelosi is likely no accident, she lives in Presidio Terrace quite close to the park. And the whole declaration may be a lobbying effort in that regard, as the bill has been introduced in the House, but has not received a vote.
It seems unlikely at this stage of the game that this announcement will affect anyone’s Memorial Day weekend plans. But regardless we would recommend not leaving valuables in your car at Ocean Beach and Baker Beach if you’re visiting there anytime soon — just like you shouldn't be leaving visible or valuable stuff in cars anywhere in San Francisco or any major city.