United States Park Police

The United States Park Police (USPP) is one of the oldest uniformed federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. It functions as a full-service law enforcement agency with responsibilities and jurisdiction in those National Park Service areas primarily located in the Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and New York City areas and certain other government lands. The United States Park Police is one of the few full-service police departments in the federal government that possess both state and federal authority. In addition to performing the normal crime prevention, investigation, and apprehension functions of an urban police force, the Park Police are responsible for policing many of the famous monuments in the United States.

United States Park Police
Patch of the USPP
Badge of a USPP officer
Flag of the U.S. National Park Service
Common nameU.S. Park Police
MottoIntegrity, Honor, Service
Agency overview
Preceding agency
  • Park Watchmen (1791)
Jurisdictional structure
Federal agency
(Operations jurisdiction)
United States
Operations jurisdictionUnited States
Legal jurisdictionNational Park Service areas, primarily located in the Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and New York City areas and certain other government lands.
General nature
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
Sworn members605 [1]
Agency executive
  • Gregory T. Monahan [2], Acting chief
Parent agencyNational Park Service

The USPP shares law enforcement jurisdiction in all lands administered by the National Park Service with a force of National Park Service Rangers tasked with the same law enforcement powers and responsibilities. The agency also provides protection for the President, Secretary of the Interior, and visiting dignitaries. The Park Police is a unit of the National Park Service, which is a bureau of the Department of the Interior. As of 2006, the force consisted of 605 officers.[1]


The Park Watchmen were first recruited in 1791 by George Washington to protect federal property in the District of Columbia. The police functioned as an independent agency of the federal government until 1849, when it was placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior.[3] In 1867, Congress transferred the police to the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, under the supervision of the Chief of Engineers of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Watchmen were given the same powers and duties as the Metropolitan Police of Washington in 1882.[4] Their name was officially changed to the present United States Park Police in 1919. In 1925, Congress placed the Park Police in the newly created Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital.[5] Headed by an Army officer, Lt. Col. Ulysses S. Grant III, the office reported directly to the President of the United States. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt transferred the police to the National Park Service.[6]

Their authority first began to expand outside D.C. in 1929, and today they are primarily responsible for the Gateway National Recreation Area units within New York City and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, as well as the many designated areas in the Washington area, which includes neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia. These sites include the National Mall, the C&O Canal towpath in the region, and the parallel roadways of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia and Clara Barton Parkway in Maryland.


The Force functions as a unit of the National Park Service with jurisdiction in all Federal parks. U.S. Park Police officers are located in the Washington, DC, New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas, and investigate and detain persons suspected of committing offenses against the United States. Officers also carry out services for many notable events conducted in the national parks.[7]

Park Police have no authority to follow a vehicle outside their jurisdiction unless a felony has been committed.[8] According to Park Police policy, lethal force can only be used when there is "imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm".[9]

In Virginia, USPP Officers are provided with Conservator of the Peace powers as set forth in 19.2-12 of the Code of Virginia[10] with powers and duties provided under 19.2-18 of the Code of Virginia.[11] In Washington, D.C. itself, USPP Officers have the same powers and duties as the D.C. Metropolitan Police. USPP Officers possess a limited arrest authority in the State of Maryland. The U.S. Park Police hold state arrest authority in New York [ New York State CPL 2.15 part 9 ], and state arrest authority in New Jersey [ New Jersey Code 2A:154-6 ]. In California, arrest powers are provided under California Penal Code Section 830.8. These state arrest powers are in addition to powers held as federal officers. The U.S. Park Police primarily enforce laws including but not limited to Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and other federal statutes such as 16 USC and 18 USC, as well as state and local laws.


2017 shooting of Bijan Ghaisar

In November 2017, Park Police shot and killed Bijan Ghaisar, an unarmed Virginia man after a hit and run and three separate vehicle pursuits. More than eight months after the incident, Park Police provided no explanation for the killing.[8] According to a lawsuit filed by the family, it was twelve hours following the incident before the family learned that Park Police were involved. Two days after the shooting, Park Police Chief Robert MacLean met with the family. MacLean offered condolences but provided no information about what had happened.[8] The Ghaisar family was not allowed to touch their son for three days following the incident, when he was guarded by the department’s officers.[8] According to the family, when a doctor arrived to examine Ghaisar for organ donation, the Park Police denied access, declaring the brain-dead man "under arrest" and his body "evidence."[8] More than nine months after the incident, Chief MacLean refused to speak to media about the incident, while Fairfax County Police, who filmed the shooting, said that the episode showed that greater transparency was needed.[12] After more than a year and in response to a lawsuit, US Park Police named the shooters as officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya.[13]

The incident was not captured on a body cam, since Park Police are forbidden from wearing body cameras while on the job. In a 2015 memo written by Chief MacLean, he told the entire force not to use any audio or video recorders "while on duty". MacLean claimed that the lack of a department-wide policy justified the ban on cameras.[14] Following the shooting, in 2018 DC Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a bill to require uniformed federal police officers to wear body cameras and have dashboard cameras in marked vehicles. The legislation was directly in response to Ghaisar's death.[15] Chief MacLean backed out of a scheduled meeting with Holmes Norton and Representative Don Beyer to discuss the matter, prompting Holmes Norton to make a statement to "express our astonishment" at his absence.[16] More than two years after the killing, Park Police had not launched an internal investigation into the matter or released recordings of the 911 calls the Park Police received.[17]

Other incidents

In January 1982 USPP helicopter pilot Don Usher and his partner Gene Windsor saved the lives of five passengers from the Air Florida Flight 90 crash.[18]

In December 1982, Norman Mayer threatened to blow up the Washington Monument with a truck he said contained explosives. A standoff with U.S. Park police began at 9:20 In the morning. It ended ten hours later after the suspect backed up the truck, then surged forward. Police fired dozens of shots at the tires and engine block, overturning the van. One of the bullets ricocheted and fatally struck Mayer in the head. No explosives were found in the van.[19][20]

In 1989 Officers David Duffey and William Lovegrove rescued two people in the Glen Echo Flood after a parking lot collapsed.[21]

In 1990, Officer Katherine Heller was at Lafayette Park when she was approached by a man who had been assaulted. After Heller radioed a description of the attacker, another Park Police officer, Scott Dahl, spotted a man matching the description and approached him. The alleged assailant began fighting with the officer and wrested the officers service pistol away from him. Heller approached and shot the man in the chest. Heller was named police officer of the year by Parade Magazine and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. She was the first U.S. Park Police officer, and the first female officer, to receive the IACP award.[22][23][24]

In 1993, officers of the Park police rescued passengers of the Golden Venture ship, which had run aground on the beach at Fort Tilden in Rockaway Beach, Queens. Park police officers were the first to arrive on the scene. After calling for backup they ran into the water, pulling survivors from the cold water.[25]

In 1994 Park Police shot and killed a homeless man on the sidewalk in front of the Whitehouse. The man was brandishing a large hunting knife taped to his hand and refused to surrender in a confrontation with the officers.[26][27]

The two helicopters of the U.S. Park Police played an important role after the September 11 attacks on the pentagon. The crews responded immediately, transporting injured personnel to hospitals. The helicopters served as a command and control platform, using their Forward Looking Infrared equipment to provide firefighters with intelligence about the scope and spread of the fire through the five rings of the structure, and taking over air traffic control for the Washington, D.C. airspace after the controllers at Washington National Airport had to evacuate due to thick smoke.[28][29][30]

In 2011, U.S. Park Police conducted an investigation after the arrest of five dancers at the Jefferson Memorial. In a video posted to YouTube, Park Police appeared to body slam and choke an individual who was silently dancing. The dance was in protest of the ban on dancing at memorials.[31]

U.S. Park Police played a role in the Washington Navy Yard shooting on September 16, 2013. Two U.S. Park Police officers, Andrew Wong and Carl Hiott, were involved in the response. The shooter was killed by D.C. Police Emergency Response Team officer Dorian DeSantis, who took fire, and a U.S Park Police Officer.[32] U.S. Park Police Eagle 1 also conducted a rescue mission and removed an injured shooting victim from the roof of building 197 along with 3 other survivors ultimately saving their lives.[33]

In 2014, Park Police launched a crackdown on food truck operators. Park Police handcuffed food vendors who were selling to tourists on the National Mall. Vendors suggested that the enforcement was to protect the revenue from the government's food stands.[34] By September 2014, Park Police had arrested 196 people over the year for vending without a license on the mall, some of whom were jailed.[35][36]

In 2015, U.S. Park Police detained an on-duty secret service special agent who was part of a detail for US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. The Park Police were sued following the incident for violating the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable seizures.[37]

In 2016, Park Police aggressively enforced traffic regulations outside Arlington National Cemetery. Officers hid behind bushes to catch cabdrivers picking up passengers, claiming that idling cars were parked. Charges brought by the Park Police were dropped on appeal.[38]

In 2017, Park Police handcuffed teens who were selling water on the National Mall. The incident sparked public outrage and raised questions of racial disparities in enforcement. DC Councilmember Charles Allen asked whether arresting the teens was the appropriate response.[39]

In 2019, the sexual assault of a female Park Police officer by her male colleague two years earlier was disclosed. The attack occurred inside a Park Police station. Despite a protection order requiring 100 yards of distance between the two officers, Park Police continued to assign the officers to roles where they might be in contact. The assaulting officer was not suspended or terminated. [40]



In September 2019, Gregory T. Monahan became acting chief of U.S. Park Police. He previously served as assistant chief in charge of the San Francisco field office. Former Chief Robert Maclean was promoted to Interior Department’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security.[2]


The United States Park Police operates patrol district stations in the New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas.[41]

U.S. Park Police officers are charged with protecting National Icons such as the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and other well known monuments and memorials. This is accomplished through the Homeland Security Division, which consists of the Intelligence/Counter-Terrorism Unit, the New York field office, and the Icon Protection Branch, which consists of the Central District Station and Special Forces.[42]

U.S. Park Police maintains communications centers which operate 24 hours a day seven days a week. One in the District of Columbia, one in San Francisco and two in the New York area. The Park Police oversees two dispatch (SF and NY) centers which also dispatch park EMS crews as well as park police officers. The centers are staffed by fully trained emergency dispatchers who handle a wide range of emergency calls for service, from shooting calls to suicide calls. The dispatchers have been credited with saving numerous civilian lives through specialized call taking (such as suicide call taking) and through quick deployment of officers to scenes as well as coordinating multi-agency police responses to scenes.

Specialized Units

The U.S. Park Police manages a Marine Unit, an Aviation Unit, Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT), a Canine Unit, a Motorcycle Unit, a Special Events Unit, a Traffic Safety Unit, a Horse Mounted Unit and a Criminal Investigations Branch.[43]


The missions of the United States Park Police Aviation Unit include aviation support for law enforcement, medevac, search and rescue, high-risk prisoner transport and presidential and dignitary security. The Aviation Unit has provided accident-free, professional aviation services for over 40 years. They were the first helicopter provider of Air medical services within Washington, D.C, and continue to provide these services 24/7 to the district and neighboring jurisdictions.[44] They also provide an invaluable resource for patrolling and performing rescues at the numerous federal parks and recreation areas within the National Capital Region, such as Great Falls Park and Shenandoah National Park.[45] Like many park environments, injured parties in these remote and difficult to access locations require specialized rescue equipment to access and retrieve persons in distress. The US Park Police Aviation Unit is the primary resource for these remote rescues requiring helicopter access.

The Aviation Unit of the United States Park Police began in April 1973 and was placed under the command of Lt. Richard T. Chittick. It started with one Bell 206B JetRanger and a staff of three pilots and three rescue technicians based at the Anacostia Naval Air Station in a shared space with the MPD Aviation Branch. A second helicopter, a Bell 206B-3 JetRanger, was added in 1975 and the unit relocated to Andrews AFB. The Aviation Unit moved to its present facility in Anacostia Park, the "Eagle's Nest," in 1976. In 1983, the 206B-3 was upgraded to a Bell206L-3 LongRanger. Their first twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412SP, and the third helicopter to carry the designation "Eagle One," was placed in service in January 1991. The unit grew to its current staff, and began providing 24-hour coverage in January 1994.

In August 1999, the unit took delivery of its second twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412EP. It became the fourth helicopter in the unit's history to carry the designation "Eagle One" and the same registration number as that of an earlier aircraft whose crew affected the rescue of victims after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90. In May 2016, the unit received a replacement for "Eagle Two" with a used & reconditioned Bell 412EP to replace the aging aircraft delivered in 1991.[46]

The crew of US Park Police Aviation resources are frequently called to assist at significant and historical disasters and emergency incidents throughout the National Capital Region. These incidents include the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon,[30] the D.C. sniper attacks throughout the region, and the Washington Navy Yard shooting in 2013.[47] During the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting the crews of US Park Police Aviation responded with two helicopters and transported Congressman Steve Scalise and a US Capitol Police Officer to the trauma center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.[48]

Rank structure

Title Insignia
Chief of Police
Assistant Chief
Deputy Chief


Below is a partial list of areas policed by the United States Park Police.[1]

See also


  1. "Policing Capital Sites". doi.gov. July 21, 2006. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
  2. Jackman, Tom (September 13, 2019). "Police union says new Park Police chief arranged for criminal cases to be dropped". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved September 13, 2019.
  3. Farabee, Charles R. (2003). National Park Ranger: An American Icon. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 121. ISBN 9781570983924.
  4. United States Congressional serial set, Issue 5145. The Library of Congress. 1907. p. 2125.
  5. United States. National Park Service (1999). The White House and President's Park, Comprehensive Design Plan: Environmental Impact Statement. Northwestern University. p. 448.
  6. Maion, Nancy (2015). Federal Law Enforcement Agencies in America. Wolters Kluwer Law & Business. p. 66. ISBN 9781454858775.
  7. "United States Park Police (U.S. National Park Service)". Nps.gov. August 10, 2018. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  8. Tom Jackman and Michael Brice-Saddler (August 3, 2018). "Family of accountant shot dead by U.S. Park Police officers files $25 million lawsu=it". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved August 4, 2018.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. Tom Jackman (January 24, 2018). "Video shows Park Police fired nine shots into Bijan Ghaisar's Jeep at close range, killing him". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
  10. "Legislative Information System". Leg1.state.va.us. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  11. "Legislative Information System". Leg1.state.va.us. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  12. Paul Wagner (August 9, 2018). "US Park Police chief confronted about deadly shooting of Bijan Ghaisar". Fox News. Washington DC. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  13. Reem Nadeem (March 29, 2019). "Family's lawsuit IDs Park Police officers who shot unarmed Va. driver". WTOP. Washington DC. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  14. MIRANDA GREEN (April 25, 2018). "Park Police officers were forbidden from wearing body cameras: memo". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  15. "Bijan Ghaisar's family and friends push for answers in US Park Police shooting death". Fox 5. Washington DC. January 26, 2018. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  16. Tom Jackman (February 13, 2018). "After Ghaisar killing, Park Police chief backs out of meeting on bill requiring body cams". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  17. Tom Jackman (December 2, 2019). "After Ghaisar killing, Park Police chief backs out of meeting on bill requiring body cams". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  18. Dicus, Howard (January 13, 1992). "Ten years after a jet headed to sunny Florida..." UPI.
  19. SHRIBMAN, David (December 9, 1982). "MAN SLAIN IN CAPITAL MONUMENT THREAT". The New York Tiimes.
  20. McCabe, Scott (December 8, 2009). "CRIME HISTORY - Man killed at Washington Monument". Washington Examiner.
  21. Latimer, Leah Y. (May 7, 1989). "63 VEHICLES TAKE PLUNGE AS PARKING LOT COLLAPSES". The Washington Post.
  22. Buckley, Stephen (February 23, 1990). "MAN SLAIN BY POLICE IN LAFAYETTE SQUARE". The Washington Post.
  23. Hoberock, Barbara (October 10, 1990). "U.S. Parks Officer Honored By Police Chiefs, Magazine". Tulsa World.
  24. "POLICE OFFICER OF THE YEAR HONOREES". International Association of Chiefs of Police.
  25. MCFADDEN, KATIE (June 7, 2018). "The Golden Venture: 25 Years Later". The Rockaway Times.
  26. Duggan, Paul (December 21, 1994). "HOMELESS MAN SHOT IN FRONT OF WHITE HOUSE". The Washington Times.
  27. "Homeless Man Shot Near the White House Dies". The New York Times. December 22, 1994.
  28. Gabbert, Bill (December 1, 2018). "National Park Service helicopters played vital role on 9/11". Fire Aviation.
  29. McDonnell, Janet (2004). The National Park Service: Responding to the September 11 Terrorist Attacks (PDF). United States. National Park Service. pp. 19–24.
  30. Goldberg, Alfred; Papadopoulos, Sarandis; Putney, Diane; Berlage, Nancy; Welch, Rebecca (April 2, 2007). Pentagon 9/11 (Kindle ed.). Defense Dept., Office of the Secretary, Historical Office. pp. 1172, 2527, 2536, . ISBN 0-16-078328-3.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  31. RUSSELL GOLDMAN (May 30, 2011). "Park Police Investigate Arrests for Dancing at Jefferson Memorials". ABC News. Washington DC. Retrieved May 30, 2011.
  32. Hermann, Peter (September 14, 2014). "Officer who shot Navy Yard gunman says it 'needed to be done'". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  33. "For Park Police pilot Ken Burchell, Navy Yard shooting was unlike any other rescue mission". WTKR.com. September 18, 2015. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  34. Shapira, Ian (July 8, 2014). "Park Police Investigate Park police cracking down on Mall food trucks". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved July 8, 2014.
  35. Carman, Tim (September 23, 2014). "Food trucks on the Mall? Stationary vendors worry about the impending competition". Retrieved September 23, 2014.
  36. "DC Food Truck Vendor Jailed For Parking At Mall". September 23, 2014. Retrieved September 23, 2014.
  37. Flynn, Meagan (June 18, 2019). "Park Police detained an on-duty Secret Service agent. He says it was because he's black". The Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved June 18, 2019.
  38. Shapira, Ian (February 11, 2016). "A taxi driver's standoff with U.S. Park Police outside Arlington National Cemetery". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  40. Satterfield, Kolbie (September 20, 2019). "US Park Police Officer speaks out after she says she was sexually assaulted by fellow officer". WUSA 9. Washington DC. Retrieved September 20, 2019.
  41. "Jurisdiction and Authority". USPP. National Park Service.
  42. "Homeland Security Division". USPP. National Park Service.
  43. "Specialized Units". USPP. National Park Service.
  44. "Air medical providers". Doh.dc.gov. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  45. "Elite National Park Service Helicopter Unit Marks Forty Years Of Service". National Parks Traveler.
  46. "Aviation to receive a 'New' Eagle". Usppfop.org. May 25, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
  47. https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/09/16/dc-navy-yard-shooting-at-least-6-dead
  48. Mullins, Luke (May 28, 2018). "The Terrifying Story of the Congressional Baseball Shooting". Washingtonian.
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