Early Police Authority
Police authority of the early park watchmen was limited to arrests made within government reservations. This, however, was not their only responsibility as outlined in Lieutenant Colonel Thomas L. Casey's 1879 annual report to the Secretary of War. "Each reservation containing either a piece of statuary, a lodge, a fountain, ornamental vases, and drinking fountains requires a watchman, not only to preserve the property from injury, but to make minor repairs of the walks and sodding, to keep the paths and lawns free of papers and shavings and other rubbish ... and also to preserve order among and protect those who may chance to visit the squares for their personal pleasure and comfort."
Congress legislated in 1880 that park watchmen receive the same powers and duties as the Metropolitan Police. This authority was codified in 1882, conferring members of the Force with broad police powers extending beyond the confines of park boundaries to include the entire District of Columbia. From that time forth, the watchmen were issued badges, batons, and whistles and were commonly known as "Park Police," although this designation did not become official for many years to come. Their job expectations were changing from a generalist position to one focused almost exclusively on law enforcement concerns. This is evident in Major Thomas W. Symons' characterization of the Force in 1903. "I especially desire to invite attention to the force of park watchmen which force is improperly named, inadequate in point of numbers, and insufficiently paid. The designation of watchmen does not describe the members of this force and their duties. They are strictly policemen, with all the powers of the regular police force, and their duty is to maintain proper police control over the parks. This requires a great deal of delicacy on the one hand in dealing with women and children, and on the other the roughest and most dangerous kind of police work in dealing with toughs and offenders of all kinds. The duty of the men is not simply to watch the parks, but is also to protect the respectable people, especially women and children, in their full enjoyment, and unmolested by bad men and dissolute women."
Wishing to garner greater respect for his officers in the eyes of the public, Major Symons appealed for the official designation "Park Police." "It would be a satisfaction to the men of the force and aid them in the performance of their duties to be designated as policemen, for offenders are sometimes averse to being cautioned by watchmen, and question the authority of a watchman to make an arrest, as it is generally supposed that no one but policemen have authority to do so."
This refrain was echoed on many occasions through subsequent years until December 5, 1919, when, by virtue of an Act of Congress, the Force was legally titled "United States Park Police." Henceforth, the term "watchmen" designated guard positions. With the 1932 dedication of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and completion of the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway on the Virginia side of the Potomac, U.S. Park Police authority and responsibility expanded from local to regional jurisdiction.