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U.S. Park Police chief suspended after talking to reporters

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering    

U.S. Park Police chief suspended after talking to reporters

  • The chief told members of the media that her department was spread too thin to provide the kind of security the government has sought since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and that it faced an $8 million budget shortfall next year.

Dec. 11, 2003 — The chief of the U.S. Park Police was suspended last week for telling reporters that her department was ill-equipped to effectively patrol area parks, and that it was operating under a multi-million dollar budget shortfall.

The National Park Service announced in a statement released Dec. 5 that Chief Teresa C. Chambers had been put on leave, effective immediately. The statement did not specify the reasons for the suspension, its length or if Chambers would be paid. The National Park Service later admitted that she was punished for breaking federal rules that prohibit “lobbying” and “discussing budget proposals before they are finalized,” according to a story in The Washington Post.

The move has received widespread criticism, from representatives on Capitol Hill to union officials. House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) told the Post on Dec. 10 that Chambers’ suspension was part of an “epidemic of secrecy” within the Bush administration.

“It will, in my opinion, have a chilling effect on our ability to have effective homeland security and honest and open communication,” he told the newspaper.

In interviews with members of the media, Chambers, 46, said the U.S. Park Police was facing an $8 million budget shortfall next year, down from the current $12 million shortfall, and that officers were spread too thin. The Interior Department’s National Park Service, which oversees the U.S. Park Police, recently required — but could not hire — additional officers to patrol Washington, D.C.’s national monuments. As a result, Chambers said, area parks have become littered with drug dealers and homeless people.

Nothing Chambers told reporters was confidential information. The Web site of the Fraternal Order of Police and the United States Park Police Labor Committee, NationalParkSafety.org, specifically addresses “law enforcement staffing shortages” as well as an assortment of other budgetary problems.

“The Rangers and the Park Police are suffering from severe staffing shortages,” says the Web site. “Staffing for the U.S. Park Police is down 20 percent below a safe staffing level. According to an analysis by Booz Allen & Hamilton, the Park Police ‘do not have sufficient numbers nor are they adequately equipped and trained to prevent a determined terrorist attack.’ ”

Chambers was named the chief of the U.S. Park Police in 2002, the first woman ever to hold the post. She oversees a force of 620 officers. Chambers told reporters she needed approximately 1,400 officers to provide the kind of security the government has sought since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“We think suspending Ms. Chambers is a disgrace and should be reversed with her returning to her position,” said Randall Kendrick, executive director of the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, a sister union to the United States Park Police Labor Committee.

“Ms. Chambers’ sin is in having pointed out the truth.”

JL


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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