ALBANY — Park police who patrol the Empire State’s green spaces and historic sites are being folded into the New York State Police, Gov. Cuomo announced Tuesday.
The governor said significant increases in attendance rates at state parks in recent years necessitated the maneuver, which he believes will make parks safer and save taxpayers money.
“This administration has made unprecedented investments in our park system and with that came unprecedented growth in attendance,” Cuomo said. “The current system is indicative of the mentality of the past and with this action we’ll be able to deploy state resources more efficiently and effectively and better respond to any threats to the safety of the 74 million people who visit New York’s parks and historic sites each year.”
A memo sent to State Police superintendent Keith Corlett and Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid from the administration outlined the immediate transfer of control of the roughly 250 officers and the steps needed to complete the merger.
“Complete integration will be accomplished in a sequenced process which maximizes the efficient use of staffing and other resources while keeping the public safe; supports the assumption of all existing Park Police missions by the Division or other first responder organizations; and facilitates the transfer of qualified Park Police Officers to the Division,” wrote Director of State Operations and Infrastructure Kelly Cummings.
A six-month analysis will give both agencies time to assess resources and determine how best to integrate park officers through an abbreviated academy for those who meet current State Police qualifications as well as future applicants.
Language will be included in next year’s budget that will waive the current age requirement to become a trooper and amend other standards, allowing for age-adjusted fitness and vision tests for older park police making the transfer.
Those who choose not to become troopers will remain as park police until “such time as alternative plans are developed or they leave Park Police service,” Cummings wrote.
Park police are often called on to handle large crowds, assist parkgoers, search for and rescue missing persons, make arrests, conduct criminal and non-criminal investigations, and provide emergency services, according to the department’s website.
Park officers respond to around 40,000 calls a year and union reps have long argued that a merger would increase safety at parks, reduce high turnover rates and be a benefit to underpaid officers.
The consolidation comes, as Cuomo noted, as the number of visitors to state parks has skyrocketed in recent years.
More than 74 million people visited New York parks in 2018, a 2.5 million increase over the prior year, officials said. That’s also a 28% increase over attendance records from 2011.