TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Tucson City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night, Dec. 18 to approve the news Parks Ranger program.
The program was recommended by the Tucson City Manager, Michael Ortega, for a 10-member Parks Ranger program.
Under the first of its kind program, the rangers will patrol all 128 of Tucson’s parks including some of its most troubled such as DeAnza Park, Sentinel Peak Park and Santa Rita Park.
According to Parks Director Brent Dennis, while he was attending 62 informational meetings on the recently passed $240 million bond election, the safety and maintenance of the park system became a topic at each one.
“My goal in terms with working closely with the Tucson Police Department is to see our parks become more safe and more welcoming,” he said.
Under the half million dollar proposal, the rangers will be certified only after receiving a 40-hour training program specifically designed for the rangers, which is being designed now.
They would also be familiar with mental health issues and how to treat those in need of mental health counseling.
The rangers will not write criminal citations but civil violations such as allowing a dog to run in a park without a leash.
Dennis said a person with a small child would be reluctant to allow the child to freely run in the park if there was a threat from a large dog.
“It would make them uncomfortable,” he said. “That’s just one example.”
Homelessness is another issue which can be addressed by working with local relief agencies to offer housing, and medical services to those who need it and want it.
Not all homeless will accept housing even if offered.
Santa Rita Park at 22nd Street and Park Avenue, is a haven for homeless especially since the city closed down a nearby encampment called Camp Bravo, a tent city and home to many veterans.
Dennis said some groups that have used the available fields in the past have notified the city they will not be coming anymore because of the homeless population.
Other city parks are also facing the same issue and have complained, including residents near Jacinto Park in mid-town, who have expressed concerns about the homeless presence in their neighborhood park.
DeAnza Park at Stone and Speedway is also experiencing a high incidence of drug and alcohol use, causing concern from nearby neighbors.
At Sentinel Peak, or more commonly called "A" Mountain, the issue is with alcohol and drugs rather than homelessness.
“People have a history of going up on that prominent park and they party and they drink excessively,” Dennis said. “That has a negative ripple effect.”
Impaired drivers threaten the hikers and bikers who use the mountain for exercise and stress relief.
A 73-year-old bicyclist was killed on the mountain by a drunk driver in October.
“I think introducing park rangers to keep a watchful eye on people’s activities in the park is a step in the right direction,” Dennis said.