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If Riverside hires private security guards to patrol its parks, the city would join several other Inland cities that have supplemented police with extra eyes on those public spaces.
That list includes Moreno Valley, Temecula and Eastvale, which have park rangers. Corona, Hemet and San Bernardino used to have rangers but eliminated them to save money. Hemet officials are discussing bringing the rangers back, police Lt. Eric Dickson said.
Police watch parks as part of their daily patrols regardless of whether rangers are also on the job. Riverside is considering hiring guards after shootings in La Sierra and Arlington Parks in the past few months and residents complained about drug pushers, aggressive panhandlers and being frightened by homeless people.
Rangers' duties include reporting damage, watching for people drinking alcohol or using drugs, settling disputes on field use and enforcing parking regulations. Rangers note that homeless people have the right to be in parks - when they are open. Some rangers have the authority to write tickets for vehicle or municipal code violations. One ranger said he asked a man to leave who was toting a bow and arrow.
"You never know what you're going to run across," said Larry Truitt, a ranger in Moreno Valley for 15 years.
Betsy Adams, Moreno Valley's interim parks and community services director, said park goers appreciate the rangers' presence.
"It works very well," she said. "They are a real help in facilitating the smooth use of our very active parks."
Moreno Valley has three rangers on the city payroll to patrol 32 parks plus trails. They work from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week. The city spends $372,000 a year on the program.
Eastvale has a ranger and a Riverside County sheriff's deputy assigned specifically to its 13 parks. They are paid by the Jurupa Community Services District, which pays the Sheriff's Department $175,000 a year for the deputy and a patrol car.
Richard Welch, the district's parks director, said the deputy is an extension of the Sheriff's Department, and the ranger enforces the rules and is the "extended eyes and ears" for the deputy.
"We've had a number of arrests in the parks for possession of drugs, graffiti, that sort of thing, so we've been very pleased," Welch said.
Sergio Raya, 30, is one of two rangers for Temecula's 39 parks.
"Our job is to essentially police the parks, make sure that everyone at the parks is abiding by the park codes, and we want to make sure the parks are a safe and fun place for the people to go," he said.
Temecula's rangers patrol in staggered shifts from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and other hours if there are special events, said Julie Pelletier, the city's recreation superintendent. The rangers, who are city employees, cost $226,640 annually.
"We felt it was important to have what we call ambassadors in our parks," Pelletier said.
Raya said he carries pepper spray. Truitt, 75, also carries the spray, as well as a baton.
On a recent patrol, Truitt walked through Bethune Park. He was also armed with a large supply of stickers with a "Junior Park Ranger" badge on them that he handed to small children.
"Most people, if you talk to them nice, they respond in kind," Truitt said. "There's a satisfaction to it when you can help people."
Truitt locked a gate to keep people off baseball fields that had been muddied by the recent storm.
He then climbed into his pickup and pulled out a form on which he wrote the letters C, H, I, J and E. Truitt pointed to a legend on the form that showed the letters stood for specific actions of the park goers: "Playground, walking, talking, hanging out, picnic," he said.
At Vista Lomas Park, he saw a vehicle parked in a handicapped space without displaying a placard. Instead of writing a ticket, Truitt tracked down the driver and asked him to move the car or show the permit.
Truitt said he likes to approach parks from side streets so miscreants won't see him coming. He also varies the times he patrols particular parks. He'll hit Pedrorena Park four times a day "because of the interesting usage," such as alcohol and drug use, Truitt said.
He knows where to look for homeless people who have remained past closing. At Woodland Park, they like to bed down at the top of a children's slide. When told to leave, they scoot down the plastic tubes, not the stairs.
Truitt also makes liberal use of the spotlight on his pickup at night.
"Sun goes down, open up your eyes that are in the back of your head," he said.
Contact Brian Rokos at 951-368-9569 or firstname.lastname@example.org