The United States Park Police (USPP) is experiencing pilot shortages due to retirements that could soon reduce the availability of the critical lifesaving and law enforcement capabilities of the USPP Aviation Unit. The issue of replacing retiring pilots has been known and discussed within the USPP/NPS for 4 or more years. However, the severe USPP officer shortage, caused by the decades-long reckless neglect of USPP operational readiness by the National Park Service (NPS), prevented the development of a viable plan to have fully qualified officers ready to replace the retiring pilots.
Medevac after shooting during Congressional softball practice- June 2017
Sadly, at this point, the USPP Aviation Unit is one injury, medical issue or retirement away from reducing the 24-hour a day availability they currently provide. Only a long streak of very good luck will prevent some type of service reduction from occurring before the pilot shortage is fixed.
This has forced the USPP to resort to posting an unprecedented announcement on usajobs.com to directly hire USPP Officer Pilots. However, even if the USPP hired these replacements today and started training them tomorrow, it would be at least eight months before they could fill the empty pilot positions.
United States Park Police post announcing the direct hire of Officer Pilots
The USPP Aviation Unit is a critical part of the emergency response system in the Nation’s Capital, and their capabilities (e.g., Medevac, Hoist Capabilities, Search and Rescue, Potomac River Rescues, Observation, Law Enforcement Operations, etc.) are often the difference between life and death.
U. S. Park Police hoists victim to safety during 2013 Navy Yard Shootings
For many years, the USPPFOP has warned the NPS and others about the consequences of the severe understaffing of the USPP. Most recently, in a grievance the USPPFOP filed on February 20, 2018, detailing numerous safety issues endangering USPP officers and park visitors. The grievance directly addressed the issue of retiring pilots:
“The Aviation Unit will soon not be able to provide service 24/7, due to the staffing shortages of the USPP. Approximately half of the pilots are eligible to retire and if enough of these pilots retire the unit will no longer be able to fly 24 hours a day. Unless the equipment and staffing issues of this unit are addressed medevacs, rescues and law enforcement missions performed by the unit that are seen as commonplace will soon become riskier or impossible. The absence of this Unit’s capabilities endangers the safety of officers, the public and the effectiveness of protective operations in the Nation’s Capital.”
The USPPFOP has tried for many years to get the NPS to take action on USPP operational readiness issues that endanger USPP officers and visitors to National Parks. We have had very limited success, but we will keep trying. Please, examine the record on our facebook page and please Like it, too.
Air Florida Flight 90 Crash -USPP Rescue