U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers is spending full time trying to prevent her firing for going public this month with concerns about money and staffing. The Washington Post reports that her 27-year police career is in limbo, and those who worked under her in North Carolina and Maryland police departments are stunned.
Chambers, 46, has rarely left her home since the controversy began. Friends and family members said she feels betrayed by superiors who have done nothing to defend her. She has been spending the holidays composing a formal rebuttal to each charge against her. “There’s not a single Christmas gift bought, not a card mailed, not a tree up, not an ornament in the house,” said her husband, Jeff. “We’re constantly trying to work on defending her on this.”
The Park Service reacted quickly after Chambers told reporters that her force was overstretched and underfunded and that the Washington, D.C. area’s parks and parkways were growing more dangerous as a result. On Dec. 3, the day after her comments made news, Park Service officials said she broke rules barring public comment about ongoing budget discussions and prohibiting lobbying by someone in her position. By the end of that week, the Park Service had put Chambers on leave and ordered her to surrender her badge and gun. Then, on Dec. 18, the Park Service informed the chief that she faces dismissal. Recent comments by Park Service officials suggest that Chambers and her bosses disagreed on some fundamental questions concerning her department’s future and the way her staff should be deployed.
Park Police officers in Washington are primarily responsible for protecting the Mall, but they also patrol parkways and work with other law enforcement agencies on a variety of investigations. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many in the Park Service have suggested that the Park Police focus more on guarding landmarks and scale back on the other activities.
Don Murphy, Chambers’ supervisor, said he had asked her to file a response to a 2001 report that recommended such a shift in priorities but that her review “wasn’t happening in a timely manner.” It was against that backdrop that Chambers said the force should be increased from about 620 officers, perhaps to 1,400. She said she had to cover a $12 million budget shortfall this year and that she asked for $8 million more for next year.
Two days before the Park Service acted to fire Chambers, Murphy said, “You simply can’t say that the way to solve a problem is to have more people, or to have more resources, without saying how those resources will be used.” He noted that the Park Service rangers also are understaffed, especially near the U.S.-Mexico border, and that Chambers did not take the full picture of the agency into account. “We expect our senior managers to have some sense of balance about what the needs are of the entire service,” Murphy said.