Cleveland Metroparks Ranger Department has gone through dramatic changes since its inception 92 years ago. Here are some interesting facts and tidbits about early Ranger history that you may not know…
Cleveland Metropolitan Park System hired its first patrolman on May 5, 1921. Charles L. Fox was the first officer who was issued World War I army/navy military khakis, an officer’s hat and a breast pocket badge. He was expected to furnish his own weapon. Not until 1945 were park officers issued side arms.
The first Board of Park Commissioners in 1920 called for “… general peace and good order of the park.” Charles Fox and other policemen (Al Gonyol and Harry Vernon), patrolled park lands on foot, because there were few roads in the parks. In the mid-‘20s, bridle paths were developed, which provided accessibility for mounted policemen (on horseback) to cover more area more efficiently. Caring for their horses was crucial in fulfilling their obligation as park law enforcers and protectors of the citizenry and park land.
Officer patrolling the Park District in early years
The first Park District police headquarters was a cottage off Lorain Avenue which was purchased for $500. A cabin in the woods served as an outpost for officers who patrolled Bedford Reservation. It is told by late historian Joseph Jesensky that lean-to or shanty structures were built throughout the Park District to serve as warming areas for officers on cold winter patrols.
Burntside Cabin - Bedford Reservation - 1926
The average pay for an officer was $100 a month in 1922.
Communication was a challenge in the early days of Cleveland Metroparks law enforcement. The officers had to communicate face-to-face or by writing letters, memos or notes. Red illuminated poles were strategically placed throughout the reservations and turned on to signal officers that an incident had occurred and their help was needed.
Annual Report records show that a motorcycle was used for patrolling park lands in 1930.
By 1933, Cleveland Metropolitan Park District Police Department had grown from a handful of officers in the early 1920s to 15 members. They used a stable of horses, one motorcycle, and three vehicles to patrol a 10,000-acre Park District.
In 2013, the Ranger Department has 59 full-time officers, 10 full-time civilian staff and 55 vehicles which include horse trailers, a dive trailer, a van and a jet ski. Ten horses are currently boarded. The Rangers support a Dive Unit, Bike Unit, Mounted Unit and a Detective Unit. Ranger Headquarters facilitate their own lab, evidence room and holding facility.
Future articles will dig deeper into the history of this fascinating department, which we know today as the Ranger Department. But that’s another story… Stay tuned.
Much of this information comes from Cleveland Metroparks publication, The Illustrated History of Cleveland Metroparks Ranger Department 1921 – 2006.