Rangers in parks in large Irish cities are employed to “keep the peace”, to “liaise with the public” (i.e., discourage vandalism and respond to any complaints that might be made) and to perform “light cleaning duties” (i.e., cleaning up rubbish and garbage such as broken bottles, needles and syringes discarded by drug abusers and used condoms). Their hours are unsociable: they report around mid-day and remain on duty until dusk when they are supposed to lock the park gates. This means long hours in the summertime that are somewhat compensated for by the shorter days in winter.
The majority of the parks have only one ranger who works alone, although there may be other local authority employees doing landscaping, gardening and other jobs in the park. Usually the only building in the park is the depot where gardening equipment is kept and where the staff may go for shelter in very severe weather. To avoid spoiling the ambiance, the depots are usually located in sequestered areas out of the public view where they are subject to misuse by vandals and marauding gangs of youths.
The park rangers are frequently exposed to violence. An employment policy that favoured the hiring of individuals with mild disabilities as rangers was recently supplanted when it was realized that public knowledge of such problems made these rangers ready targets for violent assault. Public authorities were not covered by the Irish health and safety legislation which, until recently, was applicable only to factories, building sites, docks and other process industries. As a result, there were no formalized arrangements for dealing with violence against park workers who, unlike their counterparts in some other countries, were not provided with firearms or other weapons. Nor was there any access to post-violence counselling.
The tendency to assign rangers who lived in the immediate neighbourhood to a particular park meant that they were more likely to be able to identify the trouble-makers likely to have been the perpetrators of violent acts. However, this also increased the danger of reprisals to the ranger for having “fingered” the culprits, making him or her less inclined to make formal complaints against their assailants.
Lack of an adequate police presence in the parks and the very early release from prison of convicted perpetrators were often crushing blows to the morale of the victims of the violence.
The trade unions representing the rangers and other public authority personnel have been active in promoting efforts to deal with violence. They now include training in recognizing and preventing violence in the courses they sponsor for safety representatives.
Even though the Irish health and safety legislation now covers public authority workers, the creation of a national committee to deal with both the control of violence and the provision of aftercare for its victims would be beneficial. While guidelines on preventing violence are now available to assist those engaged in assessing the risks of violence in workplaces, their use should be made mandatory for all occupations where violence is a risk. Furthermore, increased resources for and enhanced coordination with the city’s police force are desirable for dealing with the problem of violence and assault in the public parks.
Training in how to deal with individuals and groups likely to be violent should be make available to all workers who face this risk in their jobs. Such training might include how to approach and deal with individuals presenting indications of violent assault as well as self-defence manoeuvres.
Improved communications for reporting problem situations and requesting help would also be helpful. Installing telephones in all park depots would be a useful first step while “walkie-talkie” radios and cellular telephones would be useful when away from the depot. Video camera systems for surveillance of sensitive areas, such as the park depots and sports facilities, might help to deter violence.