On December 20, 1965, four peace officers made history by becoming Los Angeles’ first park rangers, swearing to protect residents by providing safe and welcoming parks and facilities for all to enjoy. While a lot has changed in the 55 years since, the hard work and dedication of the City of Los Angeles Park Ranger Division has remained steadfast, thanks in large part to the high standard of service set forth by those who paved the way more than five decades ago.
“As we commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Los Angeles Park Ranger Division this month, LAAPOA recognizes and supports the unwavering commitment of the division, which continues to provide first-class service to the community,” LAAPOA President Marshall McClain says. “Despite facing ongoing obstacles when it comes to being armed and having few options for self-defense, park rangers have done an extraordinary job patrolling and handling calls for service at many of Los Angeles’ most prominent landmarks, including the Greek Theatre, L.A. Zoo, Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign, as well as at campgrounds, beaches and historical sites. The city’s park rangers have been pillars of the community for decades and will continue to be for years to come.”
Like LAAPOA, the park rangers started from humble beginnings. The division, which grew to 23 rangers stationed among eight regional parks by 1970, was originally created to provide assistance and services to community members, as well as for the safety and protection of the natural resources of city parks. The rangers had special knowledge and skills and were given specific assignments, which ranged from local history and geology to botany. Stationed in Griffith Park and deployed throughout Los Angeles, the park rangers learned the key fundamentals of search and rescue, firefighting, public speaking, civil defense, self-defense and first aid. They also provided community outreach about the parks and conservation and conducted nature walks and campfire programs.
From 1965 to 1985, the program was staffed exclusively with employees in the civil service classification of park maintenance supervisor. These employees aided the public, managed park resources and enriched the community enjoyment of parks through their extensive background knowledge of park fauna and flora. In 1985, the City Council approved the development of a new civil service class called “park ranger,” and four years later, the division was rightfully granted peace officer status.
“These first multi-disciplinary rangers were naturalists, rescuers and public relations specialists who set the standard for many of the expectations the public holds for Los Angeles park rangers today,” McClain says. “As sworn law enforcement officers who are also certified firefighters with credentials to fight fires and administer basic first aid, the Park Ranger Division offers an incredibly wide range of services that benefit all of Los Angeles County. By offering a junior ranger program meant to teach youth about wildlife and vegetation, they also ensure the next generation is engaged in the community and prepared to be successful stewards of our natural resources.”
Every sworn park ranger assigned to the Park Ranger Division is required to complete a thorough six-month certified police academy training course, which includes firearms training. The course is administered by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which regulates standards and training for all California law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Recently, new park rangers have received this police academy training through either the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Academy or the Los Angeles Police Academy alongside other peace officers throughout Los Angeles County. As such, POST recognizes the City of Los Angeles Park Ranger Division with full police powers to detain, arrest, book criminal violators and conduct investigations into criminal activity.
“With the increased level of violent crimes in and around our city parks, the City needs to desperately reconsider the position of arming the on-duty park rangers to combat the growing crime trends,” McClain says. “Park patrons and Recreation and Parks employees can ill-afford to wait for LAPD to respond to calls for service in the over 400 recreation and park locations spread throughout the city. The practice of waiting for police to respond to calls for service in the parks diverts police officers from calls in the city and increases response times.”
As the Park Ranger Division continues to thrive heading into 2021, the division is in great hands under Joe Losorelli, a 35-year LAPD veteran who became chief park ranger in 2019. Losorelli and LAAPOA have wasted little time in forging a great working relationship between leadership and members, and LAAPOA expects that bond to grow even stronger in the upcoming year.
“Having someone with as much experience and passion for the job as Chief Losorelli is a tremendous benefit to all California peace officers,” says McClain. “I’m honored to work with such a well-respected leader and look forward to further growing our relationship with the proud Park Ranger Division.”