Interview With Robert C. Petersen

From the interview with Robert C. Petersen of Long Beach, WA conducted by phone by Patience Rogge on January 4, 2007 from the Fort Worden History Center.  Mr. Petersen served on the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission from 1991 to 2007.  Here he discussed one of the most challenging issue he dealt with during his tenure as a commissioner:

“There have been lots of them and it’s hard to pick out any one, but one of the most difficult decisions I think we had to make was whether or not that park rangers should carry firearms.  Because they are commissioned police officers and they are out there.  Up until a few years ago they didn’t carry guns.  We kept getting requests that it’s a changing world out there and that they’d find themselves in very hazardous situations.  They have to make traffic stops once in a while.  Somebody’s speeding or driving recklessly within a park.  You have to pull them over and stop them when you never know when you approach that car, maybe it’s somebody who has an outstanding warrant against them or something like that.  They can react very violently because they don’t know whether that’s a policeman  or an unarmed ranger.  There’re all sorts of terrible things that can happen.  But on the other side of the coin, there are terrible things that can happen if a ranger does have a gun.  It can be used accidentally causing injuries or death, to all kinds of unintended consequences.  So we really struggled with that decision.  We took , it seems a long time, but it took us a couple of years of listening to testimony and getting information and studying up what the rules would be if we did go that route.  One of our biggest concerns was, aside from the things I’ve already mentioned, is that once you have somebody carrying a gun– everybody’s an individual out there– and some individuals develop what we term or call the police mentality.  They become a cop and they can become more of a cop than a ranger, and we didn’t want that to happen to our ranger force.  We wanted them to continue to be the good people that the kids enjoy talking to and are there to help you and not just to enforce the law.  We were really worried about what it might do to the status of rangers and the kind of people rangers are.  So, in our training for all new rangers and for our refreshment training each year and everything, they have special courses to cover what being a ranger is and how to continue to be a ranger, even though there is more emphasis on law enforcement.  I must say it has worked out very, very well.  We have not had one single tragic incident with a firearm.  None of the rangers had to shoot anybody  or have not been shot at or anything like that.  I’m not thinking it will ever happen but it hasn’t because these guys are so conscientious and so well trained that they’re working hard at carrying out what we wanted to make sure they would do.  Like I say, it was a tough decision but I’m sure we did the right thing reluctantly.  I guess we didn’t want to face the reality that the world has changed that much, but you have to change with it.  It has worked out very well.”

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