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Carlsbad Testing New Police Ranger Program

Credit: Kris Arciaga/KPBS

Above: "Park Ranger" decal and the City of Carlsbad logo displayed on the doors new ranger truck at the Carlsbad Police Station, Sept.5, 2017.

It is a Tuesday morning at the Carlsbad police station, and newly appointed ranger Jerry Serafini is getting ready to head out.

“This is the park ranger vehicle for the city of Carlsbad," said Serafini. "It is a 2017 Toyota Tacoma, 4x4 off-road vehicle, brand new. We use it to access all of the trails, the parks, the beaches.”

Serafini is part of a new ranger pilot program at the Carlsbad Police Department. The program kicked off in July and now has two full-time rangers on their payroll. But these are not like rangers you would see in a national park.

At Lake Batiquitos Serafini said, "a couple was walking in front of me and some birds took off and they were like, 'Oh we have a ranger behind us what type of birds are those?' Well I’m not that type of ranger. I'm a police ranger, not a park ranger."

"The park rangers, that work for let's say the Center for Natural Land Management, that also patrols Lake Calavera, they only have the power to educate and verbally warn,” said Serafini.

Serafini said his presence alone usually helps deter any bad behavior, but that is not always the case.

Photo credit: Kris Arciaga/KPBS

Newly appointed ranger Jerry Serafini talks about his new position with the police department at Lake Calavera in Carlsbad, Sept. 5, 2017.

"There are times when the Rangers need to have the authority to issue a citation or a written warning, they do have that authority," said Carlsbad Police Captain Mickey Williams.

Williams was tapped by the police chief to create the ranger program.

"They have the authority to issue a citation for any Carlsbad municipal code violation that they witness, or any county code violation that’s related to animals," said Williams explaining what the rangers are able to enforce. "Frequently quality life type issues that a police officer may not have the time devote or address to the issue, whereas the rangers do.”

But the rangers are not sworn police officers. So that means if they witness a crime, there is not much they can do, except call it in.

“If I was to come across somebody breaking into a car as we entered the trails or somebody committing some sort of a crime on the trails, a penal code violation, I would have to call dispatch a sworn officer to the scene," said Serafini. "I would take a role as an observer at that point."

The Carlsbad Police Department said they designed the program this way for a reason.

"We wanted to make sure was that people did not misidentify the rangers as a law enforcement officer, as a peace officer with arrest powers and firearm," said Williams. "Our rangers are not outfitted with pistols or firearms and there is a reason behind it, because that is not their job."

So you would never be pulled over or arrested by a ranger. Their new truck has amber lights, opposed to the standard red and blue lights on police cars.

"We came up with the new shoulder patches, that specifically say ranger, they do not say police on it," said Williams. "They have a different colored uniform, their vehicle does not say police on it, it says ranger on it.”

Go to a beach, park or hiking trail in Carlsbad, and you might notice two new rangers out on patrol. But they are not your average ranger.

The rangers are tasked with patrolling 50 miles of open space and beaches — along with 40 parks. Captain Williams said in the past officers had trouble patrolling those areas.

"For a police officer who is responsible for a large area of their beat, to respond to any call for service it is really not conducive for them to get out of their patrol car and walk maybe a mile and a half away from their vehicle on trails to check for those types of issues," said Williams. "Because if they need to respond to an emergency they’re going to be delayed by 10, 15, 20 minutes.”

"Fill that void between park ranger who has no enforcement authority to sworn officer, who has total authority to enforce all laws and all municipal codes," said Serafini. "My goal is to contact people on the trails or in the parks, the beach, or the lagoons, educate them about what they are doing wrong, then completely comply with it."

The department said the main goal of the program is compliance through education. For example, some people may not know it is illegal to have your dog off leash anywhere in Carlsbad.

“When we do encounter people on the trail we get a mixed reaction from them because some people think we are just like the other rangers that have been patrolling this for years," said Serafini. "When I contact somebody I make sure they understand who I am and what I have the authority to do, and we see how the contact goes from that point.”

Since this is a brand new program, Serafini’s duties and where he patrols are subject to change. The Carlsbad Police Department has never had rangers, and are still figuring out what does and does not work.

“That is the biggest hurdle that I have in this position," said Serafini. "There’s nothing set in stone as to what we’re supposed to be doing or where we’re supposed to be doing it."

The one-year pilot program is costing the city of Carlsbad nearly $300,000. That includes equipment, labor and the ranger truck. The city also received a nearly $100,000 dollar grant from the San Diego Association of Governments for labor costs. The grant means for the first year, rangers will spend around 50% of their time patrolling Carlsbad’s open spaces.

Photo credit: Kris Arciaga/KPBS

The new Toyota Tacoma truck purchased by the Carlsbad Police Department for patrolling beaches, trails and parks, Sept. 5, 2017.

Next April, the Carlsbad Police Department will present the program to the city council for review. That is when the council will decide to end, continue or somehow modify the program.

“A lot of people when I contact them on the trail they want to give feedback to the police department, the city council, and we encourage positive and negative feedback from everybody," said Serafini. "And they’re a little concerned, well, if I give negative feedback you’re not going to have a job. I’ll go back to my old job if this doesn’t work out for the program to continue.”

Serfaini previously worked as a community service officer for the department where he did not have frequent contact with people. Now as a ranger, he talks to residents and helps tourists. Like when a family was nervous about the steep hike up the volcano at Lake Calavera.

"They were a little concerned about having to go up there and trying to find there way up there so I was able to go up and take them to the top of the volcano," said Serafini. "Which was nice because they got to experience something that they probably wouldn’t have had I not been out here.”

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