ABC7 News first aired the story about the Marin Municipal Water District rangers last week. But we never heard from any rangers because we are not allowed to ask them how they feel about being unarmed -- they agreed not to talk about it in a 2008 deal with the district. But then we were contacted by a retired ranger who is free from those restrictions.
Jackson Barker shows ABC7 News a 38-caliber revolver like the one he carried as a ranger for the Marin Municipal Water District. The elected board stripped the rangers of their weapons in 2003, saying the low crime rate didn't warrant them.
Barker retired in 2010, but he's still upset about the decision to disarm rangers patrolling the 22,000-acre Mt. Tam watershed.
"Well frankly, it's a scary place to be," Barker said.
It is a beautiful open space for hikers, bikers and fishermen, but it is also the perfect soil, climate and hiding place for large-scale marijuana growing operations -- backed by violent Mexican drug cartels who've shown they have guns and are not afraid to use them.
Barker says lesser criminals also turn up who could also pose a threat to rangers and public safety, but he was never able to convince the board.
"One of the district directors referred to it as a cathedral; so he perceived it was like going church when you went there and only good people go to church," Barker said.
Barker says after the board took away the weapons, they contracted with the sheriff's department for two armed deputies who patrol there routinely, but it's a lot of territory for them and four unarmed rangers. A fifth chief ranger has mostly administrative duties.
"We haven't seen any incidents up there that would jump out and say we need to arm them immediately," water district interim general manager Tom Cronin said.
Cronin stresses the rangers never take on the pot growers alone. ABC7 News asked about a chance encounter.
"A chance encounter is possible for any one of our users, any one of our rangers," Cronin said.
ABC7 News: "So what is the downside? Is it expensive, is there liability?"
"I think there's liability, there's expense," Cronin said.
Cronin says he feels so far all of the arguments for and against have been based more on emotion than fact. He and the chief ranger are studying how other similar agencies handle the question of rangers and guns. He expects the board to make a final decision one way or the other within a year. ABC7 News was unable to reach any of the board members for comment.