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AGLO 1970 No. 087 - June 03, 1970
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington
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                                                                    June 3, 1970
Honorable R. Frank Atwood
State Senator, 42nd District
317 Park Ridge
Bellingham, Washington 98225
                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1970 No. 87
Dear Senator Atwood:
            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion with regard to the jurisdiction and responsibilities of the various state and local law enforcement agencies with respect to activities occurring within the area of the Peace Arch State Park ‑ located immediately on the United States side of the Canadian border at Blaine, in Whatcom county.  We understand that your request is prompted by a recent occurrence at this state park during which a number of individuals crossed the international border from Canada and engaged in violent activities in the park and in the town of Blaine.
            As has been previously indicated to you by telephone, this office is currently working on a formal opinion for Governor Daniel J. Evans in response to a request received from him on several questions pertaining to the legal obligations of our state and local governmental units and law enforcement agencies to participate in suppressing civil disturbances occurring on public premises, generally, within this state.  We believe that this opinion, when issued, will serve as a full response to your question ‑ coupled with the following remarks regarding the status of the particular state park in question and law enforcement in our state parks as a whole.
            We have ascertained that the land encompassed in the Peace Arch State Park, on the United States side of the border, is held in fee simple by the State Parks and Recreation Commission.  Various deeds for different parcels of the land now comprising this park date back to 1931.  Some of these pieces of land were purchased, some donated and some obtained by condemnation.
            We have also ascertained that a part of the Peace Arch State Park on the United States side of the border is  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] within the city limits of Blaine, and the balance of the park is outside of that city and within the unincorporated area of Whatcom county.
            RCW 43.51.040 (1) provides that the state parks and recreation commission shall have the care, charge, control and supervision of all parks and parkways acquired or set aside by the state for park or parkway purposes.  Subsection (2) of this statute provides that the commission shall adopt, promulgate, issue and enforce rules and regulations pertaining to the use of those parks which are subject to its jurisdiction under subsection (1); and subsection (3) of this same statute permits the use of these parks by the public subject to such rules and regulations as the commission, under subsection (2), has adopted.
            RCW 43.51.170 provides that the members of the state parks and recreation commission, and such of its employees as the commission may designate, shall be vested with police powers to enforce the laws of this state within the various state parks.  In connection with this statute, we were advised that certain of the parks and recreation commission's employees, denominated as park rangers, have been vested with this police power ‑ and that these individuals serve as park police forces covering each of the state parks.  There is one such individual currently stationed at the Peace Arch State Park.
            RCW 43.51.180 describes certain specific offenses within the confines of the state parks and sets penalties therefor.  Subsection (4) of this statute prohibits the wilfully mutilating, defacing or destroying of various objects within the park, and specifies any violation of these prohibitions shall constitute a misdemeanor.  In addition, of course, there are also various criminal statutes contained in Title 9 RCW, the state criminal code, which would be applicable to the destruction of public property in any of the state parks ‑ as elsewhere.
            As heretofore indicated, the forthcoming opinion to Governor Evans will serve to detail the responsibilities of the various state and local governmental units and law enforcement agencies to provide law enforcement on public premises within their respective areas during periods of civil disturbances.  However, in anticipation of this opinion, we may advise you, at this time, of certain principles which will be documented and discussed in somewhat more detail in this opinion.
             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
            Needless to say, the basic obligation of a city or town to provide law enforcement applies within its own city limits and does not extend throughout unincorporated areas of the county in which it is located.  On the other hand, county law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction, authority and responsibility throughout their respective counties, including areas encompassed by incorporated cities or towns.
            There is no distinction between the responsibility of local or county governmental units to provide law enforcement protection to property or to facilities owned by private individuals and the responsibility of such governmental units or agencies to provide similar protection to property or facilities owned by the state and lying within their jurisdiction.  In other words, the law does not treat the obligation of governmental units and law enforcement agencies to protect properties differently simply because one piece of property may be owned by the sovereign and another may be owned by an individual citizen or other private entity.
            The next principle to be noted, at this time, is that when an incident occurs in a state park or on any other public premises, the responsibility of the state to provide law enforcement protection to those persons or property endangered by the incident is not precipitated by the same factors, nor does it necessarily occur at the same time, as does the responsibility of the immediate local governmental unit within whose territory and jurisdiction the public premises are located.  Thus, while as above noted there is a specific statute which permits the state, through the state parks and recreation commission, to undertake certain police powers and enforce certain laws within the state parks, this does not transfer the primary responsibility for law enforcement on park lands lying within the confines of a city or county from the city or county law enforcement agencies to a state agency ‑ whether it be the state park rangers, the state patrol or the national guard.
            It is hoped that the foregoing information and informal recital of what appear to be the applicable general principles governing the subject matter of your inquiry will be of some assistance to you at this time.  The forthcoming opinion to  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] Governor Evans, when completed, will be forwarded to you, and we are confident that it will furnish the balance of the answer to your first question.
Very truly yours,
Chief Deputy Attorney General
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