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A HISTORY...............
by Barry Mackintosh


Just as the standing of the military usually increases in wartime, so did the stature of the nation's police rise in reaction to the domestic upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s. When "law and order" -- disdained for a time in some circles as a code for repression -- became a precious commodity, those charged with maintaining it were given more of the resources necessary to do so. Increased personnel, training, equipment, and public support tended to translate into higher morale, better performance, and greater capacity to meet the challenges of crime and disorder that rended American society during the Vietnam era.

No organization exemplified this trend better than the Park Police. The force expanded from 417 officers in 1971 to 570 officers in 1977, with a proportionate increase in support personnel. Jerry L. Wells, who succeeded Grant Wright as chief in 1973 and served capably until 1979, commanded a complex organization, which was outlined in a published report on the status of the force in 1975. [1]

The heart of the force was the Operations Division, led by Deputy Chief Parker T. Hill. It then consisted of approximately 410 uniformed officers, 32 plainclothes officers, 54 guards, 18 civilians, and seven visitor and traffic aides. They were divided among five branches: Patrol, Criminal Investigations, Special Operations, the New York Field Office, and the San Francisco Field Office.

The Patrol Branch, under Inspector Denny R. Sorah, employed 232 officers, 43 guards, seven aides, and six civilians in five substations in and around Washington. The Central Substation, commanded. by Lt. Richard J. Cusick, was by far the largest with 99 officers and was responsible for patrolling the capital's monumental core. The Baltimore-Washington Parkway Substation, located in Greenbelt Park, Maryland, dated from the assignment of 11 men to police that road in 1953. (The National Park Service accepted jurisdiction over the parkway with reluctance and sought for years to transfer it to Maryland.) Thirty officers under Lt. Lloyd E. Hill patrolled this major north-south artery and adjacent federal properties in 1975.

The Anacostia Substation, opened in 1970, had 36 officers under Lt. Thomas J. McDonnell responsible for Anacostia Park, the Suitland Parkway, Fort Washington Park, and other parklands in eastern Washington and nearby Maryland. Although the parks they served were old Park Police responsibilities, the current Rock Creek Park and George Washington Memorial Parkway substations opened in 1971. Lt. Richard E. Magee commanded the 29 officers assigned to the Rock Creek Park Substation, with jurisdiction over numerous park areas in Northeast and Northwest Washington in addition to Rock Creek Park. Lt. W. Franklin Stevens had 39 officers under him at the George Washington Memorial Parkway Substation, located at Glen Echo Park, Maryland. They covered the parkway on both sides of the river, Wolf Trap Farm Park, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Cheasapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park as far as Seneca, Maryland.

The Criminal Investigations Branch, under Inspector Roy E. Coign, included 31 investigators and seven uniformed officers in the Identification Section. Branch personnel searched for and collected evidence in some 2,500 criminal cases during 1975. Photography and fingerprinting were part of their responsibilities. With other elements of the force, they regularly assisted the U.S. Secret Service in providing security for the president, vice president, and visiting heads of state. [2]

The Special Operations Force, commanded by Inspector James C. Lindsey, comprised 97 officers employing motorcycles, horses, helicopters, dogs, and other means of dealing with specialized situations. The Horse Mounted Unit dated from the mid-1930s. After the war John D. Rockefeller, Jr., donated Morgan horses from his estate at Pocantico Hills, New York, and by 1953 the unit encompassed 10 mounted police, used primarily in Rock Greek Park. [3] In 1975 the Horse Mounted Unit had 35 officers under Lt. Robert O. Harrison. In addition to regular patrols, they were called upon for demonstrations, parades, exhibitions, and special events at Minute Man National Historical Park near Boston and Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore. Sgt. Denis R. Ayres was honored for his many contributions to the mounted program ten years later with the Department of the Interior's Distinguished Service Award and the special rank of sergeant major.

Horse Mounted Unit
USPP Horse Mounted Unit takes top honors in police team competition at Devon, Pennsylvannia, 1973. Chief Jerry L. Wells, left foreground, receives trophy from Sgt. Denis R. Ayres. Mounted from left: Pvts. Harry Huber, Norbert Bonjo, David Lennox, Reubin Ginn, John Thrift.
(NPS Newsletter photo)

In 1950 a Civilian Disturbance Group equipped with helmets, shotguns, and tear gas equipment had been formed for riot control, and a 30-foot trailer had been outfitted as a mobile field headquarters after a mid-air crash at National Airport showed the force ill-equipped to respond to protracted emergencies. [4] From such modest beginnings rose the sophisticated special equipment and tactics teams and Selective Enforcement Unit of the Special Operations Force. When the "People's Bicentennial Commission" massed 100,000 protesters to disrupt President Gerald R. Ford's appearance at Minute Man National Historical Park on April 19, 1975, the Selective Enforcement Unit helped provide security. Other notable demonstrations at which Special Operations units functioned during the decade included those by Iranians in 1978 and Arab students protesting the treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979, both in Lafayette Park, and the American Agricultural Movement's month-long occupation of the Mall in 1979. Of course, major demonstrations entailed commitments from all elements of the force.

Demaray, Wirth, and Raspberry
NPS Associate Director Arthur E. Demaray and Assistant Director Conrad L. Wirth flank USPP Chief Mark A. Raspberry inspecting Civilian Disturbance Group on Washington Monument Grounds, 1950.
(photo by Abbie Rowe, NPS)

When the Canine Unit was established in 1957, the Park Police became the first police department in the Washington area to use service dogs. During 1975 the unit provided explosives detection assistance at Washington National Airport and the Smithsonian Institution and aided the Bermuda Police in connection with Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Bermuda. The unit also participated in more than 50 school and community exhibitions.

The Aviation Section was formed in April 1973 under the command of Lt. Richard T. Chittick to provide aerial observation, photography, and rescue services throughout the metropolitan area. Initially it consisted of one Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopter, "Eagle One," costing $175,000 and manned by three pilots and three rescue technicians -- all Park Police officers. In 1975 a second 206B, "Eagle Two," was added at a cost of $225,000, requiring three more pilots. At that time the section moved from its original base at the Anacostia Naval Station to Andrews Air Force Base while awaiting the completion of its permanent facility, "Eagles Nest," at Anacostia Park in May 1976.

During 1975 the section recorded more than 1,100 hours of flight time. Its missions included 14 river rescues, 17 searches for felons, and 28 air evacuations from traffic accidents. In 1979 two additional crews allowed the section to expand its service from 16 to 24 hours, and Eagle One was replaced by a Bell 206L-1 Long Ranger helicopter with a larger engine and stretched fuselage costing $460,000. The rescue technicians were upgraded to intermediate paramedics by the Washington Hospital Center's MEDSTAR facility in 1982, and in 1983 Eagle Two was replaced by a Bell 206L-3 Long Ranger with a still-larger engine costing $700,000. [5]

The section's most publicized mission came during a snowstorm on the afternoon of January 13, 1982, when Air Florida Flight 90 struck one of the 14th Street bridges after its takeoff from National Airport and plunged into the Potomac. At considerable personal risk, pilot Donald W. Usher and paramedic Melvin E. Windsor hovered low over the river in Eagle One and pulled five survivors to safety. The pair received the Interior Department's Valor Award from Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt in a special ceremony soon afterward.

In 1972 Congress gave the National Park Service two more major urban responsibilities: Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. In February 1974 they became what are still the only national park system units outside the Service's National Capital Region with permanent Park Police contingents. [6]

Inspector Hugh Groves was the first commander of the New York Field Office at Gateway, followed in 1975 by Inspector James P. Deely. Forty five officers and 10 guards were assigned there in 1975. The office began the first Park Police boat patrol, which in 1977 had four boats (a Mako, a Boston Whaler, and two Grovers) and handled more than 800 incidents ranging from rescues to larcenies. The office also added four horse mounted patrol officers in 1977. [7]

The San Francisco Field Office, under Inspector Lynn H. Herring, expanded from 29 officers in 1975 to 44 in 1977, including five horse mounted officers. In addition to its regular duties at Golden Gate, the unit was positioned to respond to special law enforcement needs at other national parklands in the West. In 1975, for example, it augmented Special Operations Force personnel from Washington in handling demonstrations at Death Valley National Monument and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

More highly educated recruits and more intensive training after recruitment contributed heavily to the greater professionalism of the Park Police during the 1970s and 80s. In 1972 training for all federal law enforcement personnel (except FBI agents and military police) was consolidated at the Treasury Department's Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, located originally on L Street in Washington and relocated to the former Glynco Naval Station at Brunswick, Georgia, in 1975. FLETC provided a 12-week basic training program covering such topics as due process in interrogation, scientific aids to investigation, ethics, self-defense, and skilled vehicle operation. Much of the curriculum came from the former Park Police training program at Jones Point in Alexandria, Virginia. Park Police graduates then advanced to five weeks of specialized training emphasizing local and park laws and regulations. Ultimately they became partners of field training officers for nine weeks of on-the-job training. Capt. Charles R. Stebbins, head of the force's Training Branch in 1975, was stationed at FLETC to coordinate Park Police training and instruction there.

Some park rangers had attended the Park Police training program at Jones Point, and many more were sent to FLETC. Although the need for greater law enforcement capability was clear in many parks, the conversion of generalist rangers to parapolicemen became controversial. Some thought the trend to law enforcement specialization went too far and deplored what they saw as an erosion of the traditional ranger image. "I firmly believe that in some parks the law enforcement speciality has gotten out of balance with other responsibilities of park rangers," NPS Director Gary Everhardt declared in 1976, even as legislation was en route to enactment that would require all park employees exercising law enforcement duties to be specially trained and certified. [8] Others felt that rangers who had only been through FLETC and did not constantly do police work were unlikely to be sufficiently trained and mentally prepared to handle difficult police situations. [9] The law enforcement training of rangers also tended to revive the old question about the need for a separate park police force. Anticipating this question from Congress, a 1983 budget briefing paper stated that rangers were still generalists insufficiently skilled in urban law enforcement to deal with situations handled by the Park Police. [10]

The force of the 70s and 80s was not only better educated and trained but more representative of the society it served. Blacks were a rarity in the Park Police in 1947 when Grant Wright came aboard. By 1949 12 of its 114 officers were black, but Wright and three black colleagues had to pursue a grievance to gain cruiser patrol assignments and be considered for promotion. A year later Wright became a motorcycle officer, and in 1954 he was made the first black corporal. [11] Rising through the ranks to progressively more responsible positions, Wright became chief of the force in 1968. Other blacks followed to high rank, among them Parker T. Hill, who succeeded Jerry Wells as chief in 1979 and led the force until Lynn Herring took over in 1981.

The first park policewoman was Beatrice Ball, who joined the force on January 1, 1942, after 10 years with the Metropolitan Police. She soon enlisted in the Navy's WAVES, however, and was replaced by Lydia H. Barton that summer. The novelty of Barton's appointment was played up in a January 1943 press account: "Fifteen stalwart members of the Park Police were startled yesterday by the appearance of Mrs. Lydia H. Barton, park police woman, at the first session of the Park Police Training School" (founded three years earlier). Both women were restricted to cases involving women and juveniles. [12]

In 1954 there were five women on the force. One was Pvt. Grace H. Judy, a 10-year veteran with a college degree who had formerly taught high school. Among her duties, as featured in a newspaper article, were plain clothes assignments at the scenes of molestation complaints carrying a revolver, blackjack, and claw in her handbag. [13]

By the mid-70s women as well as blacks were in the Park Police main stream. Chief Wells ordered aggressive affirmative action in recruiting, and the minority and female composition of FLETC classes ran as high as 40 percent. [14] In 1974 Kathleen Carlson achieved the highest scholastic score -- 971 points out of a possible 1,000 -- of any basic trainee at FLETC to that time.

Butler, Arthur, Carlson
William Butler, Director, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and Deputy Chief Franklin A. Arthur congratulate Pvt. Kathleen Carlson for top scholastic honors at FLETC, 1974
(photo by Herman E. Baines, USPP)

Jane P. Marshall was typical of the modern policewomen who performed the same duties as their male counterparts. On May 21, 1975, she came to the aid of Officer Ronald L. Blankenship, who had been shot. Jumping from her cruiser, she was struck by two bullets. While bleeding profusely she transmitted a call for help, reported the means of the assailant's escape, and assisted in directing the landing of the force's medivac helicopter. (The assailant and his accomplice were later apprehended, convicted, and imprisoned.) Officer Marshall's courage and cool performance under fire was in the best police tradition. [15]

The attack on Blankenship and Marshall brought the force almost as much publicity as an incident involving quite a different woman the previous year. At 2 a.m. on October 7, 1974, Pvts. Thomas R. Johann and Larry W. Brent observed a Lincoln Continental speeding through West Potomac Park without lights and halted it at the Kutz Bridge over the Tidal Basin. Its intoxicated occupants included Rep. Wilbur Mills of Arkansas, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Annabell Battistella, an Argentinian go-go dancer who had performed at the Silver Slipper night club on 13th Street as Fanne Foxe, "the Argentine firecracker." While Mills threatened Johann's job, Battistella ran from the car and jumped into the water, from which she was pulled struggling by Brent. [16] The comic-opera episode and ensuing scandal inspired "The Ballad of Fanne Foxe" ("She was only a stripper at the Silver Slipper, but she had her ways and means . . .") and doomed Mills's congressional career.

With its base of operations in the nation's capital, the U.S. Park Police would inevitably become involved in such highly visible and sensitive situations. Fortunately, by this time the force had risen far above its original status and overcome the internal turmoil that had earlier hampered its effectiveness. No longer dismissed as second-rate, its survival assured, it commanded near-universal respect as a credit to the police profession and the National Park Service.



Last Modified: Fri, Dec 10 1999 07:08:48 am PDT

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