Pasco council OKs park infraction fines; 3 rangers to issue tickets

Pasco park-goers who have gotten used to letting their dogs run loose or flying remote-controlled model airplanes or tossing empty soda cans soon will be paying for those activities -- literally.

The Pasco City Council recently adopted a set of fines for various civil infractions in the city's parks.

Fines range from $87 for something like littering up to $163 for driving where you're not supposed to.

And the city has three new park rangers on duty to watch out for scofflaws and to issue tickets, said Rick Terway, the city's director of administrative and community services.

"We have had issues with people driving (in the park), dogs off-leash. The police won't deal with them because they're minor," Terway said.

So the park rangers will be there to patrol the parks and help teach people what is allowed and what isn't -- and to alert police if they spot criminal activity.

"The park rangers are going to be our eyes and ears out there," said Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger. "They have radios. They can contact us."

The city had planned to hire state-commissioned park rangers that would carry weapons and have the power to make arrests, but Terway said the city didn't get enough qualified applicants.

The plan was prompted by an increasing number of problems in Pasco parks, including a gang-related shooting in Chiawana Park on a summer Sunday in 2010.

So as a compromise for this year, the city hired three seasonal park rangers who are military veterans, but who don't carry weapons or have arrest powers.

The rangers can write tickets for violations, Terway said.

And the Pasco Police Department has a new street crimes unit in the works that could help tackle some of the criminal activity happening in parks.

Metzger said the department has hired officers for the unit and a few other open positions. The new officers are either going through the police academy or field training, and he anticipates having the new unit up and running by December.

The unit will include four officers who investigate street crimes that could include gang activity or serial crimes such as a rash of burglaries.

The $400,000 annual cost for the officers and all of their equipment is covered by Pasco's portion of the public safety sales tax increase approved by Franklin County voters in November.

"Gangs will be the nexus for what we're doing," Metzger said. "Gangs account for a lot of (street crime), but not all of it."

The officers will patrol in unmarked cars, talking to people and looking for crimes, but won't respond to calls the way a patrol officer does.

Metzger said the unit is part of a three-pronged approach to policing in Pasco that includes the patrol officers taking calls, the street crimes unit investigating crimes and the community being aware and reporting suspicious activity.

"It's a very comprehensive approach," he said. "Our officers are excited about it."

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com