The union representing Michigan state park officers said they should be allowed to have guns and bulletproof vests to handle unruly visitors.
The Michigan State Employees Association said officers are in an unsafe work environment because of a lack of training and equipment. The union has filed a complaint with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Park officers work in situations that can escalate quickly and should be better equipped, said Ken Moore, the association’s president. Park officers also should have access to enforcement data systems so they can run background checks on park visitors, he said.
“We’re are not going to just stand by and allow our state park officers to be threatened, abused and put in dangerous situations they are not equipped to deal with,” Moore said.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is happy to evaluate the union's concerns, said spokesman Ed Golder.
“The safety of our employees and the public is of paramount importance, and we are constantly evaluating that,” he said.
Golder contested the union's allegations that the number of incidents at state parks is escalating or that parks are unsafe.
Michigan has 320 state park officers who are equipped with pepper spray, batons and handcuffs. The state has about 220 conservation officers, who are allowed to carry guns, Golder said. Park officers only receive seven weeks of training while conservation officers undergo 22 weeks of training from the Michigan State Police, he said.
Park officers and conservation officers monitor the state’s 103 state parks, 134 state forest campgrounds and 12,000-mile trail system. The park system gets about 27 million visitors annually.