Off-duty Tacoma police officers started patrolling Point Defiance Park on Sunday looking for visitors feeding raccoons, geese and ducks.
Feeding any wildlife in the parks is a violation of the city’s municipal code. Officers will be delivering warnings to animal feeders a few times a week until the end of the summer. If the problem isn’t curbed by a police presence, officers will begin issuing $532 fines, parks Superintendent Marina Becker said.
Gerald Turney was the first officer to patrol the park Sunday. The off-duty officers have been hired by Metro Parks through a contract with the Tacoma Police Department and are paid $55 an hour, Becker said.
On Sunday, Becker and Turney had only one incident at the duck pond, where two people were tossing pieces of hoagie rolls into the water. Once Becker explained the health risks for the wildlife, the feeders packed up their bread and left.
For the most part, the ducks in the pond had their tails up in the air. That’s what Becker likes to see. It means they’re feeding naturally, she said.
In her 12 years as parks superintendent, Becker has seen all sorts of food being given to wildlife. Raccoons along Five Mile Drive feast on popcorn, bread, marshmallows and cat food, she said.
Naturally nocturnal, raccoons now approach humans during the day because they are trained that food is available from park goers. Often on Five Mile Drive, raccoons will approach parked cars looking for handouts.
Off-duty officers are the latest addition to the park’s “Do Not Feed” effort, which has been going on for about four years, Metro Parks spokeswoman Nancy Johnson said. Point Defiance Park is staffed with seasonal and year-round ambassadors who help educate people about why feeding animals is harmful.
Haley Grosseclose, a student at the Science and Math Institute, started as a park ambassador this summer. Part of her job is to ask people to stop feeding ducks at the pond. Metro Parks has printed cards, one for ducks and one for raccoons, that the ambassadors hand out.
During big days, Grosseclose can be busy. During the Taste of Tacoma, she felt like a “walking bearer of bad news” to people feeding ducks.
Most people are polite and stop feeding when asked, Grosseclose said, but occasionally there will be hostile patrons or repeat offenders. She said she thinks having police officers will help with some of the more troublesome situations.
Park ambassadors hand out information cards to educate visitors on the risks of feeding wildlife. Raccoons can become aggressive when they aren’t fed, and a diet of unnatural, easily available food can lead to overpopulation and disease.
For ducks and geese, feeding can cause malnutrition and overpopulation. A high number of ducks and geese pollutes water in the parks and poses a risk to humans, according to the information email@example.com