There is actually a purpose to this blog

Scott Adams - the writer of the 'Dilbert' comic strip - once described a Mission Statement as 'a long, complicated paragraph demonstrating management's inability to think clearly.' Therefore, I'll not call this a mission statement.

This blog is dedicated to informing civilian Park Rangers about topics routine taught to police officers but almost unknown to most of us who wear a uniform, work alone, and confront potentially dangerous on a frequent basis.

This blog is intended to offer suggestions based on my experience, and on my understanding of Maryland Law. It may be different where you are.

That's my mission.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"License and Registration, please."

I can't speak for everywhere, but in my state, a driver is required to produce his driver's license, on demand of a police officer. Not, unfortunately, on demand of a civilian Park Ranger. But why would you even want to see somebody's license in the first place?

In the most innocent circumstance, it may be that it is much more expedient to read the name, address, etc. off somebody's license than have him have to repeatedly spell something over and over. "Stevastapol Mxpclycx, with two X's" On the other hand, you may want to obtain his real name and address rather than trust what he tells you.

As is the case with all the advice I tender here, do what you think best. However, while the law doesn't say a person has to comply with your demand, it doesn't say you can't ask for his or her license. Nicely. Don't say, 'Gimme your license!'" Ask, "May I see your license, please?" If you don't get it, you are no worse off than before. Even better, you might say what a friend of mine used to say, "Do you have any form of identification, preferably a driver's license?" He wasn't even asking for a license - if they tendered it, so much the better.

I require a copy of a camp host or volunteer applicant's license. I get it or they go elsewhere; I have no intention of allowing them to drive around in one of our Gators, tractors, or golfcarts without a valid license. Note - they don't have to have a license to drive one of them, at least in my state. They just can't drive one while their license is suspended or revolked. Therefore, I need to see it.

"It's not what you can do or can't do, it's how you do it."

One last thing: Make it a point of getting the full name (first, middle, and last) and date of birth of everybody you deal with officially. It might be that it is needed for something later. For instance, you jump start a disabled vehicle and a few days later, the police let you know it was stolen. You would have a lot of helpful information in your files.

Background Checks? How?

Yesterday, I received an email from a couple interested in camp hosting this coming summer. I sent them information about the park and an application form, as I always do. I also began a 'background check' on them, using my non-law enforcement resources.

As you undoubtedly know, parks are favorite hangouts for sex offenders and others with a criminal bent - those on the lam as well as those looking for mischief. It is up to us as Rangers to protect our parks and our guests, but we don't have access to the tools we need to do it. No NCIC, no criminal histories, no vehicle registration information, none of that neat stuff I used to utilize when I wore a badge.

Over the last several years, I have assembled a list of resources that I use to check out my camp hosts, volunteers, and in some cases, others who frequent the park. None of them are quite as good as the real thing, but taken together, I can find out a lot about somebody when I put my mind to it on commercial sites like,, and a number of others.

I have found that you get different results at different times from the same site. You can't count on always being able to locate neighbors of the person you are checking, for instance, but you can usually find his or her age, current and former addresses (at least former cities), and names of people living at the same address. By checking a number of sites, you can sometimes get a good picture of your applicant. Sometimes, you can literally get a picture, merely by browsing the name and 'Facebook' or 'myspace,' even if you aren't a member. I have found applicants mentioned in newspaper articles, links to professional website listings, and even a list of patents held on one occasion. You never know.

I have about three pages of sites of value; I can send them to you if you ask.

In addition to the commercial sites, you can also access a bunch of government sites, like online court records. These always come in handy in deciding on community service workers, and as I have mentioned before, it is good to drop a bit of information when interiewing them so they think you know more about them than you actually may.

In the case of my applicant, mentioned early in this blog, the first thing I did was run the Sex Offender registry for his state. What do you know? The first listing of the surname I was looking for has the same address as my man. And a boatload of offenses.

It took me a bit of searching but, thanks to the web, I eventually developed the theory that the offender was most likely the older brother of the applicant, and they shared the house with the applicant's son and wife (whose previous name, age, and previous addresses - and apparent lack of criminal record I soon determined). Before I make a decision on whether or not to 'hire' him, I will confirm his identity and check him out with the State Police in his home state, but it could be that I dodged a bullet in this case by identifying a sexual predator.

A bit of sage advice here - keep your sources under your hat. Especially, don't mention that you didn't select somebody based on a website's information. Require and interview references; if the applicant feels wronged, let him suspect they are the reason. Better yet, don't say why - just tell the applicant, "It just didn't work out this year - maybe another time."

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Remember, the point of this blog is to provide information to civilian Rangers not normally taught by their agency, and to serve as a place to exchange information. I have no desire to keep inventing the wheel, and I doubt most other Rangers do, either, so I immediately search the web when I have a new task to complete. Up until now, there really hasn't been a central clearing house of all the various things we are involved in.

I hope to change that.

Because this blog (and all, so far as I know) is published most recent first, you can very well take a look at it and have no idea what I'm doing. Therefore, I think I should add an explanation from time to time.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What a Car Can Tell You

As you approach a car parked where it shouldn't be, be attentive not only to the occupants, but to the car itself.

Check the license plate. Tell it to yourself; chances are better you will remember it if you read and hear the plate number. What state it it? In a park, a car might be from anywhere, but it is still good to check. While you're at it, use the old police trick of looking for rust around the unused bolt holes, indicating it had been mounted differently at another time. Look for bugs - most people don't back up fast enough to mash bugs on their rear plate. Again, an indication it came from another vehicle.

Compare the license plate with bumper stickers, auto dealer decals or license plate frames, parking decals, and anything else with a city spelled out on it. A pickup truck sporting Kansas plates in a Maryland park isn't much to get excited about. But suppose it also has a dealer decal from New Jersey along with a radio station bumper sticker from Newark?  Still not probable cause, but - remember what we said early on - we don't deal in probable cause. We're after another kind of PC - Probably Cause to pay close attention. It could be that the truck is legit. Or it could be stolen and the tags switched.

Look inside as you walk up to the vehcle. Not only for people who could do you harm, but just to see what you see. Out of state maps, parking tickets from another part of the country, or something odd like a chain saw in the back seat or a piece of a statue, might be an indication of some wrongdoing.

If the vehicle is occupied, study the occupants closely: clothing, demeanor, accent, body language. Anything you can glean, that they don't know you know is an advantage. Many years ago, when I was carrying a gun, I made a traffic stop for a routine violation. I was courteous, did what I had to do, and took my leave. But I did one other thing: I observed. I watched the driver search a wad of identification and other materials in his wallet, and I could see the same name on all of them. Eventually, he passed his license and I said, "Back up one, Mr. Smith. You passed it." Again, I was polite and he didn't act at all out of the way.

What Mr. Smith did, though, secretly tickled me. He called my shift commander and pitched a fit, claiming that I had only stopped him because I knew him. I not only didn't know him, I was from a different part of the state, and had only worked there a few weeks. The thing that I was delighted to hear was that I had made him think I knew him (and possibly what he was up to - if anything) by the simple act of calling him by name. I never forgot it and have done it hundreds of times since. In how many of those instances was the driver actually up to something and the act of calling his name convinced I knew him and, therefore, I must have run his tag number? I'll never know, but there's a good chance it happened.

Any contact you walk away from is a good contact.

Next time, more clues.

It's What You Know

Knowledge is power. Or maybe safety, in the case of a Park Ranger.

As you approach a vehicle parked in the Day Use area after closing, you really don't know what you are getting into. Maybe nothing. Maybe it's an escaped criminal in a stolen car with a gun, who thinks you are a police officer.

Not good.

As a civilian Ranger, you have had how much training about how to handle this situation? Can you spell 'Zero?'

Positioning your patrol vehicle can have one of two effects: On the one hand, it can provide illumination of the interior of the suspicious vehicle, a shield, and a means of escape. On the other, it can be a like a red flag waved at a bull. 

In the second illustration, you pull in quickly, stop sharply, and point your headlights into the passenger compartment at a sharp angle from a position oft one of the rear fenders. You have just spelled 'Police Officer.' Maybe you wanted to - maybe you feel that putting the people in the vehicle at a tactical disadvantage might protect you. Could be. It's your choice and you will never hear me say to ignore that sixth sense.

In the first case, however, you pull your vehicle almost parallel to the driver's side of the parked car, with the front bumper approximately even with the rear bumper on the other vehicle. You cant the headlights slightly inward, so some of your lights shine into the passenger compartment. You exit your vehicle quickly, walking around the rear of it, and around the rear of the other vehicle. In almost all cases, the occupants of that vehicle will be looking for you to walk up on the driver's side, but your headlights make it difficult to see which way you went.

As you walk well behind the other vehicle, keep a sharp lookout inside of it - how many people? What are they doing? Approach from the passenger side, standing well back from the right front door and tap on the glass or roof with your right knuckles, keeping your flashlight in your left hand. (The opposite for southpaws, if you want, although doing it as if you were right handed keeps them from seeing if you are carrying a weapon or not.)

While you are approaching the vehicle,be looking around you, in the darkness. Don't be surprised by somebody walking out of the gloom!

Next time - what their car can tell you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The 'No Look Rule'

You are sitting at a stop light when a police car pulls up along side you. What do you do?

You will almost certainly look, nod, perhaps wave. Unless you are up to something, in which case, you will probably take an immediate and consuming interest in the car ahead of you, or something several blocks down the road.

This is called the 'No Look Rule.' It's taught to police officers all the time, and it is a valid technique that can be useful in building Probable Cause. Note: Not looking at you isn't probable cause in its own right, but can be considered as part of it.

Probable Cause is like weighing grains of information on a scale. One grain isn't PC, and two may not be, either. But as you pile grains up, eventually the scale will tip.

As an illustration, you ride by a campsite and nobody looks at you. Odd, perhaps, but not unheard of. You file it away in your mind, perhaps add to it when you make other observations involving that group of campers later in the evening. It may still be nothing, but it might. It might be enough to cause you to look at the reservation system records for previous problems with those campers. It might be enough to cause you to be extra careful in your dealings with them .

It might be enough to keep you from getting hurt.

Probably Cause?

What do you care about Probable Cause? You're not a police officer.

Nothing, strictly speaking. Not as far as the performance of your job is concerned. You can't make an arrest, so therefore you won't have to convince the court that Probable Cause existed before you took action.

In fact, if you are in some way involved in an incident that ultimately leads to court, don't even mention the phrase 'Probable Cause.' It will most likely open the door to a very unpleasant situation for you. Any defense attorney halfway worth his hire will most likely launch into a pattern of questioning designed to discredit you (you have no training in determining probable cause, after all) and win the case for his client.

On the other hand, it is a good idea to know what PC is, in order to help yourself decide if a certain course of action is warranted. And, equally important, to explain your thought process to a police officer if you call one. A knowledge of PC is a good decision making tool.

First of all, you should know that Probable Cause isn't hard and fast. Despite the police officer's best efforts, it is determined by the judge during the trial. It is very much the product of an officer's ability to paint a word picture. The judge wasn't there at the scene when the decision to arrest was made; it is up to the officer to testify in such a manner as to cause the judge to see the facts in his own mind.

The same thing will apply when you discuss what you think is a criminal act or suspicious person with a police officer. No matter what you saw, he didn't. You should be prepared to list, point by point, what attracted your attention, what you observed, and your experience in dealing with such things in the past.
In subsequent posts, I will cover a number of other topics that will - I hope - help fellow Rangers use their six senses to determine that illegal actiity is taking place, and even determine that their safety might well be in jeopardy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Now What?

This blog is something I have wanted for quite a while. I have spent a considerable amount of time searching the web, looking for websites devoted to civilian Park Rangers. I have found a fair amount of National Park Service Ranger sites, but nothing pertaining to State and Local Rangers, and likewise, nothing geared toward civilian Rangers.

Having previously been a Law Enforcement Ranger, and having many, many years as a police officer, I have an advantage that newly minted Rangers don't have: a great amount of training and experience dealing with bad people. Things that scream 'Danger!' to me go unnoticed by my colleagues who lack the training I have had.

While I understand why a Ranger I know once told me that she 'wasn't comfortable' with the authoritarian aspect of the job, it is something we have to do, like it or not. It is my goal to provide some advice and information that might make that part of the job safer.

The other reason for creating this blog is the lack of any clearinghouse for 'hints and kinks' we Rangers develop to make it easier or more effective to do our jobs. We spend half our time reinventing the wheel.

So. Those are my goals. I would be very glad for any assistance you might provide.