'We need more rangers': Vancouver Park Board aiming to double size of ranger program
The Vancouver Park Board is hoping to double the size and cost of its park ranger program.
On Monday night, board commissioners endorsed Phase 1 of the “Park Ranger Service Model.”
General manager Donnie Rosa said the scope of responsibilities for rangers has increased.
“There are times where they’re protecting mother turtles and their eggs and there are times when they’re bringing water to people in distress who might be experiencing homelessness,” Rosa said.
According to the report presented at Monday night’s meeting, the current program has a “base labour budget” of $1.3 million, funding the equivalent of 15 full-time ranger positions. The new proposal is seeking to more than double the program to $3.1 million to fund the equivalent of 31 full-time positions.
The report also shows a predicted overspend on wages of $1.1 million for 2021, due to overtime expenses.
By increasing the number of rangers, the new model proposes to establish “Specialized Task Teams” to deal with homeless encampments in parks. Rosa said teams would require additional training “like crisis prevention, things like being trauma-informed and harm reduction, cultural awareness.”
Responsibilities of these teams would go above and beyond the current role of a park ranger, including needle sweeps in parks and assisting with those experiencing homelessness.
“The real focus of the park ranger is actually engagement, it’s building trust, it’s building relationships in the community,” Rosa said.
In addition, the board is also considering establishing roles with peace officer status, giving rangers more powers to enforce by-laws.
Previously, park rangers could only issue tickets for smoking in parks. This month, they were also given the authority to issue tickets for feeding wildlife after experts repeatedly said feeding animals led to aggressive coyote behaviour.
Troy DeSouza is a lawyer with Dominion GovLaw LLP, with expertise in by-law enforcement and local government law. He says it “makes sense” to give rangers more enforcement powers, rather than needing additional assistance from police agencies.
“What you want is empowerment of these regulatory officials so that they can actually enforce the law,” DeSouza said.
The current proposal is being sent to Vancouver City Council for budget approval. Rosa anticipates hiring additional staff in the new year if the funding is granted.