From left: Park Ranger Justin Wilson, Springfield-Greene County Park Ranger Administrator Tim Carpenter, Springfield-Greene County Park Board Chairman Sidney Needem, Park Ranger Zach Sawyer and Park Ranger Chris Farthing. (Photo contributed by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board)

The seven people tasked with making more than 100 of Springfield’s park sites safe and fun places received national honors for their efforts.

The Springfield-Greene County Park Rangers were awarded the 2022 Park Law Enforcement Association’s Platinum Award for Excellence. Springfield-Greene County Park Ranger Administrator Tim Carpenter attended a conference in South Carolina to accept the award, and then gave a report to the Springfield-Greene County Park Board on March 11.

Park rangers in Springfield are fully commissioned law enforcement officers through the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.

“We have seven rangers, we work two shifts, we cover every day of the year,” Carpenter said.

Park Rangers responded to 1,604 documented incidents in the past year, an average of 4.39 incidents per day across the park system. Incidents occur whenever someone calls for a ranger’s help.

“What’s an incident? Anytime we’re dispatched out, it’s actually on a computer and that’s documented,” Carpenter said.

Much more effort to make Greene County parks safe places to play goes unnoticed most of the time. Carpenter gave an example of what happened when a person visiting Nathanael Greene Park returned to their vehicle and discovered a thief had broken into the car, smashing a window in the process.

“Our rangers don’t just go over and take the report. They’ll take them over to the Nat Green maintenance building and vacuum their car out for them, so they’re not driving home in glass. That’s what these guys do, so it’s way more than 1,604,” Carpenter said.

In 2021, park rangers made 35 warrant arrests and 13 drug arrests. They confiscated four illegal weapons. 

“We don’t really just go around arresting people. We want you to have a good time in the parks,” Carpenter said. “What we do is we try to gain voluntary compliance through interaction, engagement and education; that’s what we do.”

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The rangers patrol more than 100 different park sites, plus more than 100 miles of the Ozarks Greenway Trails. They provide a law enforcement presence at special events, like Springfield Lasers World Team Tennis matches, National Night Out and the Springfield Turkey Trot, which is the largest Thanksgiving Day 5K run in Missouri.

On top of their public relations work, the rangers respond to emergencies.

In 2021, rangers updated 44 alarms throughout the park system, converting them from landline phones to cellular devices, which Carpenter said are more reliable and cheaper to operate. They also fixed more than 200 security cameras in locations throughout Springfield, allowing park rangers to watch one park from another park, effectively patrolling “two places at once.”

Sometimes, park rangers stop people from doing things they shouldn’t do in a public space.

Carpenter said that doesn’t mean Springfield’s parks are unsafe.`

“We handle the stuff that’s not always positive within parks. There is not one bad park. Every park we have is a good park,” Carpenter said.

Springfield-Greene County Park Board Director Bob Belote read the criteria for the Platinum Award for Excellence, explaining it goes to an agency, “that demonstrates a commitment to excellence in park law enforcement, safety and education and has demonstrated a commitment to sustainability, crime reduction, inter-agency collaboration and accountability to the taxpayer in reducing duplicative services.”

Belote said he was proud of the way that the Springfield Park Rangers represent the community that they serve.

Ambassadors and law enforcement officers

Jenny Fillmer Edwards, public information officer for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board,  explained that the rangers take on some duties that law enforcement officers at other agencies normally would not, because their interactions with the public tend to be softer.

“They provide law enforcement as well as serve as ambassadors in our parks. Our park rangers often have a friendly approach and serve as educators, “Hey, maybe don’t do that in the park.’”

That doesn’t mean that rangers stay out of difficult situations. They often respond to calls outside their jurisdiction. That happened in November 2021, when a ranger responded to a call for all available units. There was a person acting erratic and displaying a weapon near the intersection of Battlefield Road and Glenstone Avenue. 

Ranger Robert Bridges was shot and injured by the suspect while he was providing mutual aid to the Springfield Police Department. Bridges is still recovering from his injuries. The shooting was a reminder of how dangerous a park ranger’s job can be.

“We are incredibly proud of and thankful for our park ranger staff. They take very good care of us, and they take very good care of our facilities and the people in them, and they make very safe spaces for us,” Edwards said. “That’s something to take for granted until an incident makes you feel unsafe.”

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger