State Park Police Celebrate 50 Years Protecting Texas’ Wild Places

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AUSTIN— Since 1971, a special group of law enforcement officers have been responsible for the safety, security and protection of the natural jewels in Texas and those who visit them.  In 2021, Texas State Park Police celebrate a half-century of   serving these special places and the  10 million state park annual visitors.

 “Our State Park Police officers are among the most highly skilled and trained officers in the state,” said Rodney Franklin, Director of Texas State Parks. “They have the critical responsibility of keeping the states most treasured and beautiful places and landscape safe for millions to enjoy.  When visitors and communities are in need, our State Park Police are among the first to help.  I am beyond proud of the dedication and service displayed by these brave professionals as they protect the legacy of parks for generations to come.”

As the main law enforcement presence at Texas State Parks, Park Police officers protect the state’s natural and cultural resources through community-oriented policing and emergency response.

“State Park Police officers are one of the most unique law enforcement entities in the state,” said Wes Masur, State Park Police Chief. “In addition to being unique, the job can be demanding and difficult, but rewarding.  State Park Police Officers must think about customer service and educational discretion. They are also trained and capable first responders in both urban and wildland environments utilizing specialized equipment including 4x4 patrol vehicles, boats, kayaks, drones, high angle rescue gear, UTV’s and ATV’s, bicycles and even horses, to name a few. “

State Park Police officers’ daily job is not limited to proactive patrols, dogs off the leash, or parking on the grass, added Masur.  Officers must be proficient in the understanding and enforcement of all state law and do not have the luxury of focusing or specializing in one area.  On any given weekend, parks become full with visitors and resemble small cities.  In addition to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code related to cultural resource protection, officers are often faced with and must enforce the  Penal Code, Transportation Code, Health and Safety Code  much like their law enforcement colleagues in neighboring communities.

As state peace officers, they are called upon to assist in protecting communities surrounding parks. From natural disasters to responding to critical incidents, State Park Police stand ready.  These men and women are on patrol every day along the coast, in the forests and mountains, in the desert, in cities and on the border.

“Called by different names and shouldering different patches on different uniforms, the police officers of the State Parks Division have been forged by challenge and change,” says Doug Huggins, State Park Police Major. “The 50th anniversary is a significant milestone and the perfect time to shine a light on a vital part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the history of the great state of Texas.”

In 1971, a dozen carefully selected volunteers started the evolution to what is now the State Park Police force. Today, the number has grown to approximately 140 highly trained police officers.

Never knowing what each day may bring, State Park Police serve with honor, dedication, heroism, and even an often-welcomed sense of humor. Look for their stories of setbacks, successes, and growth in the December issue of the Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPW) Magazine, on the TPW Magazine blog and on social media.

For more information about becoming a Texas State Park Police Officer, visit the career opportunities page on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website. The page includes information about the working conditions of the position, requirements, and the cadet applicant process.