Word earlier this year that the state Department of Environmental Conservation planned a new training academy in 2022 to replenish the ranks of forest rangers and environmental conservation officers was welcomed by outdoor enthusiasts, environmental organizations, and as well as the rangers themselves.
“Forest rangers are our frontline guardians of wild public lands,” David Gibson, of the Adirondack Wild, said when the announcement was made, noting like others that rangers are busier with tasks such as search-andrescue operations amid a boom in hiking and mountain climbing.
But it remains unclear when the next training academy will be scheduled for new State Park Police officers. There are about 200 Park Police officers, compared to 265 a few years ago. Their last academy was in 2019.
The uncertainty is compounded by the fact that the Park Police force’s future remains cloudy, even though the agency has been under the command of the much larger State Police force since 2019.
Back then, the state planned to eventually merge the Park Police into the larger State Police. The merger would increase the pay and benefits for the Park Police officers. But a merger has yet to occur and remains mired in questions about benefits and seniority status of the Park Police officers who would be absorbed into the larger force.
The New York State Police Benevolent Association, the union representing Park Police, has since 2019 said it has questions about the merger, specifically whether the physical fitness and other requirements for State Police would be waived for older veteran Park Police officers.
Additionally, the Park Police have specific skills and focus, said PBA Secretary Troy Caupin.
“There is simply no agency that can fully replicate the capabilities of the New York State Park Police, nor the willingness to carry out certain patrols such as the waters of Niagara Falls. There are ways to assimilate some of these capabilities into another agency, but one must ask the question whether the dedication to the mission will remain the same,” Caupin said.
The State Police have absorbed other police agencies, including the Long Island Parkway Police in 1980 and the Capitol Police in 1997.
When those mergers occurred, the Parkway and Capitol police kept their longevity pay and other seniority benefits, Caupin said.
Under the existing plan, a Park Police and State Police merger, though, might strip the park officers of their seniority and treat them as new troopers fresh out of the academy for purposes of pay, the PBA said.
Park Police officers may also have to complete the State Police academy despite having already met training requirements at the academy for Park Police.
There also is an age barrier and a waiver that fell off the table in budget talks last year.