The city of Seattle just put out a public relations fire over the discovery that it destroys homeless camps on city property. Now the Parks Department is hiring seven people as park rangers who will have the power to banish people for camping in the city's downtown parks and committing other violations of park rules.
The rangers won't be able to do it without a fight, however: The Seattle police union says that it is police work to write parks exclusion notices, which can ban people from parks for days or months, with union president Rich O'Neill threatening to file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
That's just one of the struggles the Parks Department faces as it advertises to hire the rangers, who are expected to hit the streets in April or May. A total of six unarmed rangers (five full-time and two part-time) will patrol in pairs from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. seven days a week, primarily in nine downtown parks: City Hall, Occidental, Hing Hay, Freeway, Westlake, Victor Steinbrueck, Myrtle Edwards, Waterfront, and South Lake Union.
The mayor's Downtown Parks Task Force came up with the idea in 2005 and, after failing to get funding in 2006, Parks got the City Council to allocate $462,000 for the rangers last year. Each will wear a green uniform and be part concierge, janitor and community cop, providing directions to tourists, picking up trash, and letting people know when they're breaking park rules, such as playing a boom box too loud, drinking alcohol, or urinating.
City documents obtained through public disclosure, however, show that the rangers will largely be expected to keep an eye on the homeless and the non-approved meal providers who feed them. The Parks Department also is still hoping to win the police union's approval for the rangers to write actual tickets with fines for park code violations