National parks seem like places of refuge, far removed from urban crime and violence. But for at least the last decade, law enforcement rangers in the National Park Service have been among the federal law enforcement officers most likely to be injured or killed by assault. In 2009, descriptions of violent incidents in national parks ranged from “assault” and “interfering” to the somewhat more peculiar:

  • “Two nude juvenile males arrested after vandalizing maintenance pickup and resisting arrest. Under influence of illegal drugs.”
  • “Graffiti with white supremacist origins indicating violence against the government.”
  • “Subject took a position behind a boulder and pointed a pistol at the Rangers as they approached his illegal campsite.”

Since 1995, the nonprofit PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) has requested yearly Park Service reports on threats and violence against the agency’s employees. In May, the group reported that such incidents had increased 339 percent from 2008 to 2009. Although alarming, the trend, High Country News found, is actually the result of inconsistent data.

“We don’t have a good national reporting system,” says David Barna, chief of public affairs at the agency. “We’re trying to fix that.”

There’s no agreement across parks on what constitutes a crime worth mentioning, says retired Special Agent Paul Berkowitz. And some parks don’t report their incidents, because the publicity is bad for business.