Future of MontCo Park Police in Doubt

Montgomery County park officers could be cut, merged

Eighteen of the 88 officers in the Maryland National Capital Park Police force in Montgomery County could lose their jobs because of the county budget shortfall.

But the president of the fraternal order of police that represents the park officers says cutting those officers would mean losing a sense of safety for many park users.

"The parks will not be as safe with 20 percent of the officers fired," said Cpl. Greg Matthews, the union president.

Matthews said the cuts would take effect in September if they're approved. He said the union understands the tight budget times the county is facing, but cutting public safety jobs is not the answer.

"These are real people, real lives, real mortgages," Matthews said.

The union is also fighting a recommendation made by County Executive Ike Leggett to eliminate the department and merge the officers into the county police department.

"Tough times call for tough measures, but eliminating the park police is a public safety issue and we are not willing to accept this," Matthews said. He argues that if the department is merged with the county, police presence will decrease and crime in parks could increase.

Royce Hanson, chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board, has also spoken out against the merge. He said in a statement: "It is bad public policy and bad management. It imperils the safety of park users, especially in down-county parks."

A spokesman for Leggett told News4 that if public safety would be jeopardized, the county would not consider merging the departments. He said it makes sense to look at the merge as officials grapple with the budget.

Councilman Mike Knapp said he was open to the idea of the merge. He wants to know if efficiencies can be achieved, saving the county money.

Many park users told News4 they were against the cuts and merging the forces. They feel the parks will be less safe and could become more dangerous.

"I know in New York there is a place called 'muggers park'," said Marian Schwenk. "I don't want that to happen here."

"I think it's the worst thing," said Don Shulman. "The focus on parks would be gone. I feel very strongly about that."

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