The Park Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) is a member-run organization made up of park professionals from around the country. Our purpose is to improve law enforcement, visitor protection and park operation services through professional development to assure a better quality of life for visitors through experiences in local, state and national park and recreation areas. We constantly strive to be a professional organization that promotes the ranger profession and developing future park leaders.
This is an exciting time for PLEA! We have improved our training conferences, increased our scholarship program, added member benefits (see our Member Benefit page), increased collaboration with other park professional organizations, and expanded our logo gear. As a member-run organization, we are always seeking ways to improve through information sharing to make us better park leaders.
Park professionals have seen many changes and increased demands for service over the last decade. But our Core Values have not changed: our duty to serve and protect natural resources and visitors with a “Ranger First” philosophy remain priority. The title ‘Park Ranger’ is commonly used to cover a wide variety of responsibilities. To unionize this, the “Ranger First” philosophy was established to provide a more authoritative influence of the Park Ranger while simultaneously promoting voluntary compliance among visitors. Since its inception, the “Ranger First” attitude in action has improved accountability on both sides: the Park Rangers and the visitors of the spaces they protect. I firmly believe education and idea sharing allows us to be more effective Rangers and ultimately leads to a more positive interaction between Park Rangers and visitors.
Many people do not get involved in professional organizations for one simple reason: they have not been asked. So, I’m inviting you to get involved with PLEA to help us grow and become better park professionals. There are several ways you can become more involved with PLEA through becoming a board member, assisting with the annual training conference, providing social media presence, and aiding in professional development of other Rangers. It’s a fantastic way to represent the Park Ranger profession around the country, while providing camaraderie and support for your fellow Rangers. Please contact us if you would like to be more involved.
Thank you for your service and all you do as park professionals to protect and serve our natural resources and the visitors who enjoy them.
President - PLEA
Previous Messages from Our Presidents
Hello: This is an exciting time for the Park Law Enforcement Association (PLEA). We have updated our logo, and this is our new web page. We are looking forward to working with and representing all Park Rangers from around the country. Please give us your feedback on the web page, we hope you like it.
At our recent conference I was reelected to my second two-year term as the PLEA President. I honor the vote of confidence from the board of directors. We are growing again for the future. We held an outstanding park law enforcement training conference in San Marcos, TX last February hosted by the City of San Marcos Park Rangers. Thank you, Chief Raven, you and your staff did a fantastic job!
Recently we have reached out in support to the City Council of San Jose, CA, about their options for arming their law enforcement Rangers. We are doing our best to support Rangers around the country.
Next year we will be holding our annual park law enforcement training conference jointly with the Park Ranger Association of California in Ventura, CA, March 5 - 7, 2019. Both associations are working on providing excellent training for our members.
I urge all Park Rangers to become members of PLEA and help us grow to better represent Rangers around the country.
On March 2, 2017 I attended a program at the U.S. State Department in Washington, DC, recognizing World Wildlife Day. I was invited as the North American Representative to the International Ranger Federation (IRF). Attending with me was Jewel Johnson, the Secretary of the IRF. We were there representing rangers from around the world who work to protect natural and cultural resources. The following is a summary of the event.
World Wildlife Day 2017
Front Line Defenders: Honoring Those Who Protect Wildlife
The illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products is the fourth largest transnational crime in the world, but the toll it takes goes far beyond the loss of animals and plants. Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal activity that is decimating populations of wild animals, including such iconic species as elephants, rhinos, tigers and pangolins. But it is also destroying the economic livelihood of communities, spurring corruption, threatening security, irreparably damaging fragile ecosystems, and contributing to the spread of disease.
Governments all over the world are now working to combat this devastating trade, but they are not alone. Often unseen and unheralded, park rangers and other “wildlife guardians” are literally putting their lives on the line each day to curb wildlife trafficking at its source, at transit points, and as products are illegally distributed around the world. They are too often invisible to much of the world, even as they stand between an enormous criminal apparatus, their communities, and the wildlife they have sworn to protect. These heroes are the Front Line Defenders
Each March, the international community comes together to celebrate World Wildlife Day on the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on the Illegal Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES. On World Wildlife Day 2017, the U.S. Department of State will honor this legacy of wildlife protection by honoring those who have defended it. Flanked by partner agencies, non-governmental organizations, and rangers themselves, we will offer a public roll call of those front line defenders who have given their lives in the course of their duties, including the more than 200 park rangers who died in 2015-2016. We also honor the lives of those still serving by showcasing their invaluable work, celebrating their courage and the courage of their families and the communities that support them, and highlight what we and our partners are doing to connect their work to a broader effort to combat trafficking and protect the world’s wildlife.
Thursday, March 2 Department of State, Washington DC
3:00 – 3:30 Projections of fallen rangers while guests arrive
3:30 Welcome and Opening Remarks: Acting Assistant Secretary Judith Garber,
3:45 “Spotlight” Address: Mike Veale – Founder, Global Conservation Force
4:00 Round-table Discussion:
Andrew Batt – Director, The Thin Green Line Foundation
Andrea Heydlauff – Senior Communications Director, African Parks Network
Susan Herman Lylis – VP, International Conservation Caucus Foundation
Juliana Machado Ferreira – Founder, Freeland Brasil
4:50 Closing Remarks: Assistant Secretary William Brownfield
5:00 – 6:00 Reception
Fellow Members of PLEA,
I have just returned home from attending the International Ranger Federation’s (IRF) 8th World Ranger Congress in Estes Park, CO. The Congress is held once every three years. This Congress was the first time the event has been held in the United States and was hosted by the Association of National Parks Rangers. We heard from numerous speakers, including Jonathan Jarvis, the Director of the National Park Service, who visited with us about the current state of the National Park System. We also attended numerous breakout sessions hosted by Rangers from around the world presenting information about the challenges they are facing trying to protect our precious natural and cultural resources.
We also had a choice of over ten tours of natural and cultural resource treasures in the Estes Park Area. I went on the Ranches of the Old West tour where we visited Macgregor Ranch, a ranch homesteaded by the Macgregor family in the late 1800 as a cattle ranch. The ranch ended up being unable to survive economically, and was saved through becoming a living trust, and the National Park Service paying to establish a conservation easement to protect the ranch. We also visited the McGraw Ranch, another ranch homesteaded in the late 1800s. The various owners of the ranch attempted to make a go as a cattle ranch and ended up operating as a guest ranch. When that economic model failed, the ranch was purchased by the National Park System as wildlife habitat, intending on removing all of the facilities. The local community voiced concerns about erasing the complete footprint of a once thriving ranch, so the facility became a research facility for plant and wildlife studies. The ranch facilities provide housing for the researchers while they work on their projects.
During the final business meeting of the IRF each member agency from the seven regions of the world voted for their representative to the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the IRF, and for the leadership of the IRF. I was elected to be the North American Representative to the IEC by the eight member associations in our region until the next World Ranger Congress, to be held in Nepal in 2019.
The Congress was a very rewarding experience, and I look forward to my involvement with Rangers from around the world as we try to serve the public and provide for the protection of our natural and cultural resources.
Dear Members and Guests,
Greetings from Cheyenne, Wyoming! My name is Bill Westerfield, and I am the Chief Ranger for Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites, and Trails. I am honored to have been elected as the President of the Park Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) for the next two years. I am very much in debt to Hugo McPhee and Tom Wakolbinger, the two past presidents, for their efforts to revitalize the board of directors of PLEA and provide me with a path toward our future success. We are going to be moving forward with preparing a plan for the PLEA to grow and serve our profession.
The 2016 PLEA annual conference was held in beautiful and historic Savannah, Georgia, February 15 – 18. The conference was hosted by the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites and was a huge success. We had 48 attendees, both sworn and non-sworn, at the daily training sessions, which were full of relevant and timely topics including special events management in the Savannah area, peer related critical incident stress management, preplanning for park area management, Alzheimer patient search considerations, law enforcement service delivery in Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, workplace violence response training, natural resource enforcement and technology, managed hunts on parks and recreation areas, and enforcement activities by non-sworn rangers.
We spent one day touring Wormsloe State Historic Site, Skidaway Island State Park, and Fort McAllister State Historic Site, seeing three jewels in the Georgia State Parks system and gaining valuable insights into the technical issues encountered managing the parks and sites. We were also treated with two exquisite local meals with lots of shrimp and grits included.
Next year’s conference is slated to be held in the Miami, Florida area, hosted by the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department. If you are looking for an opportunity to network with Park Law Enforcement professional to share ideas and get training specific to park law enforcement, we would look forward to you joining us in 2017.
If you are not a member of the PLEA I encourage you to join us to help make parks law enforcement a better profession. If you are already a member, I hope you will try to attend our next conference and grow with us.
Bill Westerfield, President - PLEA
Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites, and Trails
The 2015 Park Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) annual conference was held in beautiful Austin Texas, February 10 -13 and was a big success. Forty-four attendees, both sworn and non-sworn, attended the daily training sessions which were packed with much needed information on topics such as managing homeless populations, use of drone aircraft by law enforcement, snake handling, citizen Park Watch programs and search and rescue among others. Field trips were not just outings but attendees were taken to Austin parks which present the greatest challenges to rangers and police and issues and solutions were discussed. Chiefs, commanders and field staff all found the sessions applicable to the challenges of their careers.
If you are looking for an opportunity to network with Park Law Enforcement professionals to share ideas and get training specific to Park Law Enforcement, there is no other venue available that can deliver like the annual PLEA conference. We look forward to seeing you at the 2016 in Savannah, Georgia on February 15th - 18th, 2016.
Tom Wakolbinger, President – PLEA
Chief of Police
DuPage County Illinois Forest Preserve Police
A warm and heart felt thank you to the wonderful folks at Punta Gorda who helped make our conference a wonderful success. The officers and leadership at Punta Gorda PD, the staff at the Four Points Sheraton, the FWC staff and the community itself really outdid themselves. Plus the weather was great- averaging 80 plus degrees each day we were there. Of course, the training kept us busy during the day but at least the evenings were pleasant.
Also a big welcome to the new Directors who volunteered to serve on the Board. Bill Westerfied (WY state parks); Wallace Woods (GA state parks); Bob Murphy (Will County IL parks); Pat Fuller (Austin TX parks); Jason Ohotto (Minneapolis parks); George Poulos (Miami-Dade parks); Tom Doyle (Hamilton County parks); Dave Crisler (Marion County IN sheriffs office); Danny McCullough and Mike Doughty (Three Rivers Park District) and also Mark Caughlin (Larimer CO DNR). What a great show a camaraderie and support for the mission of PLEA. The time span from 2012-2014 saw a number of retirements at the Board level and so it is refreshing to infuse new and energetic members to continue to lead PLEA into the future.
The 2014 conference saw 33 attendees from a wide range of agencies and geographic locales. Historically conference numbers have exceeded 40 or even 50 attendees but many member agencies have travel restrictions preventing out of state travel. We certainly understand that dilemma and urge members to join us when they can- you are always welcome at PLEA.
Several noteworthy awards were presented in Florida, not the least of which was a Lifetime Achievement recognition for Executive Director Carl Nielsen for all his hard work over the years. Three Rivers Public Safety also earned both the President’s Award and Award of Excellence for their work in educating citizens about the value of parks and creating safe parklands through innovative means.
A special shout out and thanks go to Chief Pat Fuller of Austin TX as he graciously agreed to host the 2015 conference in his hometown next February. This will afford our members west of the Mississippi an opportunity to possibly attend as flights to and from Austin are easy to find and are moderately more affordable than flying across the entire country.
Lastly I would be remiss if I did not mention that Tom Wakolbinger was elected to be President of PLEA for the next two years. Tom has done a great job at leading the DuPage County Park Reserve in suburban Chicago and will do a great job for PLEA.
Thank you for the support given me over my last two years as your President and I look forward to continuing my support of PLEA as an active Board member and eventually active member. Take care, stay safe.
Director of Public Safety
Three Rivers Park District
Plymouth, MN 55441
From Chief Hugo McPhee: Park Law Enforcement Association President
Welcome to the PLEA website and the Park Law Enforcement Association!
The Board met at the DuPage County Park Preserve on May 4 to hold its annual meeting and make plans for the 2013 conference. While at the meeting we updated the Association bylaws and had great discussion on the strategic direction PLEA should be pursuing to remain the voice for professional park law enforcement and rangers nationwide.
Something new you will see is the Professional Development catalog which highlights specific command staff training that PLEA is able to provide to agencies seeking a park law enforcement or ranger perspective in the response to issues within parklands. If you would like a copy of this catalog, please contact us.
The 2013 conference location has been narrowed to one of three locations to include Colorado, Tennessee or Florida. Staff are researching which locale will be the most desirable and cost effective way for attendees to participate.
PLEA continues to partner with the Ranger Institute held annually in January in North Carolina. This Institute is an excellent training opportunity for first line law enforcement staff. PLEA also partners with the International Ranger Federation to support the efforts of rangers world-wide. Please check out the links to these fine organizations.
Thank you for checking out our Association, as your president, feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns or ideas you may have to make PLEA even more representative of the ideals in park law enforcement and ranger duties.