Ranger Academy Suffering From Loss of Experienced Instructors

I've had a recent email correspondence with a fellow who is quite concerned with the welfare of a program which teaches students how to become law enforcement officers for the National Park Service. This concerned person is a retired Park Police Captain and former instructor in the program. He has sent me the following article which he has written with the sincere desire to restore this program to greatness, and the hope for your feedback on this issue. His contact info can be found near the bottom of the article. ~jersu

When a Ranger Academy Falls, Does Anyone Hear?
Michael Foster, U. S. Park Police Captain (ret.)

What do you do when a program you once admired appears to diminish in stature and professionalism? If the program is government or academic in nature, the ability to question, change or improve it can be difficult, limited and frustrating.

Over the last 10 years I have instructed courses at the Ranger Academy at the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) Public Safety Training Center in Windsor, CA. I am concerned and dismayed at changes which have occurred during the last two years that appear to have negatively affected the quality of training and the reputation of the program.

In an attempt to find out how serious the problem is, I am requesting feedback from people within the national and state park service community, via this web site, who may be aware of specific problems related to the quality and fitness of recruits graduating from the SRJC Ranger Academy.

Is the program fulfilling the requirements for the NPS and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC)? Do graduates of this program come to the parks qualified to assume the LE function with minimal remedial training? What deficiencies do they exhibit? What do you suggest be done to address this? These and many other questions are begging to be answered.

The SRJC Ranger Academy has long been considered the nations pre-eminent seasonal ranger academy. Bill Orr, the founder of the SRJC Ranger Academy and the national seasonal ranger training program, was driven to keep the Ranger Academy training relevant. His long history and ties with the National Park Service (NPS) kept the academy on the forefront of seasonal ranger training.

His vision was to provide student-focused, professional law-enforcement training tailored specifically to the needs of national and local park rangers. Graduates of the program are spread throughout the country in major national parks, holding positions ranging from seasonal appointees to Chief Rangers and Superintendents. Even the famed author Nevada Barr is a graduate of the SRJC Ranger Academy. When Bill Orr retired as Director from the academy several years ago, he remained devoted to the program and wanted to be an active part of the training curriculum, teaching several introductory classes.

Bill was initially replaced by a retired local police captain and long-time instructor at the academy. The new Director was wonderfully efficient, working hard to bring the program into the 21st century, including the addition of California PC832 training as an extra value option to the Ranger Academy. But, unfortunately for the program, an offer to work building custom homes near Pebble Beach in Monterey.CA lured him away from the school.

The current Director is a full time police sergeant in a small Sonoma County town, he also instructs numerous classes at the academy, and he manages the Ranger Academy program part-time. To my knowledge he has no local or national park experience, his only exposure to park issues and regulations coming from attending the SRJC Ranger Academy several years ago.

Since his appointment in June 2005, I have witnessed senior NPS and local park instructors eliminated or removed from the program and replaced by instructors with little or no NPS police experience. Some senior instructors were sent impersonal emails or letters informing them their services were no longer needed or "relevant" to the ranger program. Some had their hours reduced or courses of instruction changed without explanation or warning.

Many of the instructors that left had been with the program since its inception, and all had extensive NPS and state park law enforcement experience. They include an NPS solicitor, a retired NPS Chief Ranger, a U.S. Park Police (USPP) Sergeant - master firearms instructor, a retired State Ranger, the schools founder, Bill Orr, and myself - a retired USPP Captain. These six instructors alone had almost 200 years of collective NPS and local park experience. Not only do students now have less experienced instructors for their classes, but the manner in which Bill and the other senior instructors have been treated or summarily dismissed from the program is a disgrace.

In addition, I had witnessed practical exercise scenario training that didn't include a single opportunity for students to draw their weapons. The stories I have heard about the lack of skills encountered by evaluators during the last several practical exercises were disconcerting. I truly fear for some of these students lives when they leave the academy.

Over the last several semesters I had my courses of instruction changed from those I was well qualified to instruct, to courses that I could instruct but felt less proficient at teaching than the students deserved. Since my main concern is that the students receive the best training possible, and had grown tired of the lack of management oversight including the overall manor in which the program was being run, I resigned from the program in March 2007. I will miss spending time with the students and feel they have lost the knowledge and information I, and the other retired or dismissed senior instructors had to offer.

I think I speak for all the instructors who have taught at the academy, in saying that we love the NPS or our local parks and felt proud of being a part of this once fine program. Our main concern has always been that the students receive the best training possible to prepare them for the ever more dangerous park law enforcement environment. It is distressing for us to watch the program founder.

We have heard complaints from parks that some students arrive without the skills or training they need, and some park personnel I have spoken to no longer recommend SRJC as the best ranger program available. Attempts to comment to the current administration have fallen on deaf ears and unfortunately, it is the belief of current and former SRJC staff and faculty that until those now in charge leave the program, nothing will change.

Where do we go from here? If you have some input for this discussion, whether it is a complaint, an example of something requiring improvement or your opinion that the program is fabulous and everything is just fine, please forward them to me via email at fosterwest (at) sbcglobal.net, by phone at (707) 585-0885, or by mail at 324 Butterfly Lane, G-6, Santa Rosa, CA 95407.

I have an appointment with President Agrella of the SRJC on May 4th when I can bring any concerns and suggestions to improve the ranger program to his attention. I will summarize the information I receive and provide feedback on the general consensus of those responding and results of my meeting with President Agrella via this web site.


As a graduate of Santa Rosa Ranger Academy at Two-Rock training center, it is dis-heartening to learn of the dismissal of those instructors. In my heart, Bill Orr, is not only my instructor on how to become a Park Ranger, but a friend. His vision of Windsor Acadmey has inspired me to become what I am today and forever will be, Grey and Green through and through. Learning from instructors that live the National Park way and is part of the National Park Family, is what made Santa Rosa Ranger Academy the leader in seasonal training. Having instructors that help you to learn about the Natural, Cultural and Historical Resources is what Rangering is about. I wish I was more eloquent in my writings, maybe even putting some serious thought into this, I could probably come up with a book on the subject. The easiest way for me to sum it up is to ask the Powers That Be, "Take a long hard look at Park Ranger Bill Orr."
Dear Micheal Foster, By way of introduction, my name is Jeff Clemens. I read your article and as a former Park Ranger felt compelled to respond. I have found that the Ranger Academy offers excellent training and education. The Instructors are very professional and committed to their students. In addition, my experience with the current Director has been very positive. I have had opportunities to help teach at the Ranger Academy and have been very impressed with the quality of the program as well as the quality of the graduates it produces. I am employed by Sonoma County and have worked with many Park Rangers who have come from the Ranger Academy. Rich Crumely, Bill Trunick, Tiffany Wolvek, James Macmillan, Scott Bolin, Matt Moore, Jonathan Umholtz, Becca Feickert and Mike Chiesa, just to name a few. These Individuals have represented themselves and their Department with the highest standard of professionalism. I can only assume that this is due to the educational program that is currently offered by the SRJC RANGER ACADEMY. Many thanks to all of the people who have contributed to developing this program. Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions. sincerely Jeff Clemens.
I want to thank those who have responded to my article. Responses have convinced me that we can work together to enhance the SRJC Ranger Academy. We can build on the strengths of the current program and open a discussion on how to further improve it. If you have any comments or concerns related to seasonal ranger training, please forward them to me ASAP. It is my hope that this discussion will lead to a positive, open dialogue to ensure the program fills the needs of every student and benefiting parks.
I graduated from the Ranger Academy at the Santa Rosa training Center in 2006 and had Captain Michael Foster as an instructor for several different classes. He was one of my favorite instructors as he has a large body of experience and genuine compassion and interest in the training of the rangers.

However, my experience was not entirely congruous with Captain Foster's article in that my scenario training did include the extensive use of firearms.

One scenario involved a report of a woman attempting to break into a building with a crowbar. The nature of the scenario necessitated responding with our weapons drawn and arresting and removing concealed weapons from the suspect.

Other scenarios where we drew our sidearms involved a suspicious person with a knife and a search of building for robbery suspects. We also participated in felony vehicle stop scenarios, during both night and day, that required the use of firearms, including the shotgun.

Outside of scenario training, we had other forms of training involving the use of firearms. We had extensive instruction on the range, training with both sidearms and shotguns. Along with many other tactics, defensive tactics training taught us weapon retention and felony arrest procedures, both involving drawn weapons.

We trained with the F.A.T.S., or Firearms Training Simulator, which puts the trainee into a multitude of real-life situations and forces him or her to make instantaneous decisions whether or not to use deadly force.

Perhaps the most realistic training involving firearms was the live-fire simunitions training. This involves the use of a real sidearm fitted to fire 9mm "paint" round while responding to various scenarios including hostage situations and armed and intoxicated park guests. During these scenarios, we actually "shot" the actors playing suspects.

I did not write this response to undermine Captain Foster's concern for the quality of training for the rangers. I wrote it to clarify the instruction I received at the Santa Rosa Training Center during my time there, which was overwhelmingly positive.

Andrew Douglass
As a graduate of this program, a former park ranger, a Sheriff's Lieutenant and a current and long time instructor in this program (since 1988), I am deeply offended by the allegations made. This program is outstanding. How many programs offer the quality of instruction by working professionals active within their area of instructional expertise. When Director Scott Verse took over the program there were only three working NPS rangers teaching, now there are ten and more on the way.

How many programs have the learning environment we have at the Santa Rosa Public Safety Training Center' on-site range, EVOC course, simulators, computers and a scenario village complete with a visitor center and campground. Bill Orr was very proud of this program, and taught as long as his health would allow. Bill's pride, was illustrated in the letter submitted to the NPS Signpost, days before he lost his battle with cancer.

Yes there has been some internal turmoil with the program. Much of this has been spawned by instructors who were resistant to complying with way the program is now being administered. A program meeting compliance with new regulations and adult learning concepts. The director's requirement of instructors to update and submit resumes, lesson plans, and handout materials brought an amazing amount of resistance from many of the long-term instructors. Why? Perhaps because they were reluctant to change their old fashion ways, outdated materials and stale lectures. Many of which were still using materials dated from the 70's. One who was even telling students to remove a bottle out of a drunk's hand with a Bruce Lee style spin kick'. It appalls me to see the petty undermining and backstabbing occur due to this resistance to change. During my visits with Bill, weeks before his death, I know this pettiness saddened him too. I see a small group of sour grapes trying to spoil the program because they refuse to get with the program and get with the times.

PS. I do know Mr. Foster and have always gotten along well with him. He is entitled to his opinion, but I don't believe he is speaking for the majority.
The article I wrote was an attempt to express my displeasure over the way many senior instructors were 'cast aside' over the last several years. The way in which this transition to a newer set of instructors was handled was disrespectful and disappointing. We worked with Bill Orr for years and got used to being valued for our knowledge and appreciated for the time we spent training the new ranger recruits. Somehow, that professional demeanor has changed. In my frustration to deal with these dismissals, I felt I had to make some bold comments. I didn't think people would ask serious questions and review the effectiveness of the program without someone speaking up. I feared this would be considered a 'rant' from a disgruntled (sour grapes) employee, and be dismissed without asking how we can ensure the program maintains a high degree of professionalism and effectiveness. I hope the discussion which results leads to discovering all strengths and weaknesses within the program in order to move forward in a positive thoughtful manner.

Scott Dunn tells of internal turmoil within the program that distressed Bill. All of this could have been resolved easily and painlessly if addressed directly by the new Director, with open communications and a willingness to begin a dialogue focused on working together to improve the program. Bill was quick to get in touch with instructors to coordinate their course of study and address problems immediately. Communications between staff and the director must be two way and focused on benefiting the students and following required guidelines. Mandates by email and failure to address issues directly will adversely affect any program. I am sorry if I offended Scott Dunn, as he is one of the many dedicated and experienced instructors currently with the program.

In my earlier exposure to the students during practical exercises at the end of the course of study, I felt there needed to be more instances involving the use of weapons and deadly force when students practiced and displayed their skills for testing purposes. Due to the serious nature of the law enforcement job in today's parks, I worried that we may be letting people graduate after 9 weeks as certified LE rangers who may not be up to pulling a gun and shooting a felon should that be required. We had instances in the past when students 'freeze up' or refuse to use lethal force when confronted with scenarios requiring action. This is simply unacceptable and led to changes being required.

Andrew's response shows that felony exercises have been added back into the final testing scenarios. In addition, after-hour practices have been added during the last class intended to expose recruits to more practice time doing simulated visitor contacts and arrests. These changes should improve the students' performance and allow the extra time needed to become proficient.

I also work with the regular police academy, evaluating recruits that have spent 16 weeks solely devoted to law enforcement training. Even after this extended period, we find certain individuals lacking the skills and personal fortitude required during lethal encounters. As I now look at the issue of ranger academy graduate preparedness, I wonder if we are expecting too much of our graduates after just 9 weeks training. The addition of CA 832 training by the former Director, although a great idea to reduce time and money spent by CA parks to send recruits to another week of LE training, causes additional strain on the program which is already hard pressed to prepare our recruits properly in our short time frame. Because our time to train the recruits is so short, we must work harder to ensure they graduate with the skills and information needed to keep both themselves, and the public safe when performing their LE duties.

In conclusion, I want to make clear ' my beef is with the current Director who I hope will learn from the discussion and address areas of concern. The SRJC Ranger Academy has a tremendous team of dedicated and experienced instructors and staff who remain in the program and work in a new, well appointed and equipped facility. I apologize for starting the conversation on a negative bent, and want to encourage the Director and all instructors to work together closely to ensure this program resembles what Bill Orr intended, a quality ranger training program, always seeking ways to improve itself and continue offering excellent training and guidance to students aspiring to work in our local and national parks.
I also am a graduate of SRJC, just this year. I was a former Police Officer in Nevada and chose to switch to a LE Ranger with the NPS. Unfortunately you are only picking on SRJC or the "Director" I should say, FLETC decides how much training a seasonal ranger needs. Academy training is great but, real world training is not even comparable. Thats why there is a FTO program because, the academy is what it is for the most part, a "Stale" Pristine environment, which is not realistic enough.

You say yourself that in the 16 week police academy you had trainees freeze up and lack the personal fortitude for this position which once again is not the fault of SRJC, all academies have recruits that can't make it as our group had ours and some make it through and will quit after a few months on the job if they don't get fired. A great example is Las Vegas Metro Police, which is a 5 month academy had a recruit go all the way through and into FTO and "Lost it" by throwing Molotov cocktails down on the "Strip". They are one of the "Premier" agencies in NV and they had that recruit loose it. It can happen any time and us as officer should know that.

I am sure there has been a time in all of our careers where a officer was enroute to back us and in the back of our mind we thought, I am better off with out this guy/gal. We just have to do our best. As all of us know in this line of work it takes a special kind of person do go towards the fight when most are running away and yes not everyone is cut out for this career.

The SRJC has a good program and once again it is just a "Basic" academy the recruits will not learn everything and can not learn everything in the academy.

To the comment SRJC is not the being spoke of anymore, there are 2 academies that 95% of the rangers I work with and at other parks say are the best and thats SRJC and SouthWestern CC and I think SWCC makes the grade because, of the price.

I am going to send this article to the rangers who currently instruct at SRJC (by the way there is a chief ranger, LE specialist, district ranger, supervisory ranger, firearms, ect.) who I know would beg to differ with your opinon.

To say Scott Verse works part time at the academy is an insult to him he puts a lot of time and effort to both of the academies and is extremely liked.
I could write more and I am sure I will but this it what I have to say for now.
As a recent graduate of, and Class Leader of the 113th Class of the SRJC Rangers (the most recent class 3/07), I feel compelled to respond to the article.

While I don't know personally all of the instructors that Capt Foster refers to, I know the ones that instructed me, including Capt Foster. Captain Foster holds some of the most pertinent information and knowledge to the program, however, most, if not all of the students found his lectures dry, and almost impossible to keep up with. I know that these comments were reflected in his evaluations at the end of each topic. I'm sure that it were these evaluations as well as other information that led to his dismissal.

I actually have mixed feelings of the instruction at the academy, some of the instructors were "top notch," while others were mediocre at best. It is the responsibility of each student, at the end of each lecture on a particular topic, to evaluate and turn in
said evaluations to the director of the program, so that these staffing decisions can be made.

Having come from about 10 years experience and training in the emergency services in New York City and suburban Long Island, I found that some of the information was aimed at those with little experience in the field, while other information was conveyed with the same level of difficulty across the class. It was, at least in our class, our responsibility to make sure that each of our classmates felt comfortable with the information, prior to testing.

In response to the accusation that Director Verse only "manages the Ranger Academy program part-time," well, that is just untrue. Having been in his office to discuss class issues almost daily, I can assure you that he is not only there full time, but often more than that.

Having seen him on Sunday afternoons for firearms remediation (on a holiday weekend) with students, giving some of his lunch hour on occasions to allow Ranger Candidates into the workout room for some physical training, and being in class early on a test day, to make sure that we had (1) all of the information and (2) the tests graded and returned on the same day, usually with a review to make sure that we understood what we got right, in addition to what was marked wrong.

Santa Rosa Junior College Ranger Academy is the best academy I have ever attended. Having only ever attended one Ranger Academy, it wins by default. The Academy certainly has some staffing issues that it seems are in the process of being worked out. I will continue to recommend to people who wish to pursue a career in Park Ranger Law Enforcement, that SRJC is more than adequate.

The education is there for the students in the class. I have always believed, the education is what you make of it. You can not be taught everything from basics to advanced tactics and how to apply them, but you can only give the information to the student, teach them how to use it, and let them do with it what they will. As Dave Stolts mentioned earlier in the comments, that is what an FTO program is for. I took that education, and plan on applying it in my work for the rest of my career.

As for scenario training, I agree that it could not only use some work, but more of it, with better instructors. I'm sure that the use of force module was certainly covered in class, and candidates were aware of when to and when not to use said force.

I know that there is a constant struggle to keep the program cost efficient, as many of the students pay their own way through the program, as well as an effort to keep it time efficient, to fit in between busy seasons in the parks, so that seasonal workers (those that are not yet law enforcement) may attend with little conflict in the work schedule. This was certainly the case in my situation, where the shortest, cheapest class fit into my seasonal demands. Perhaps making the program a little longer, with a little more cost is going to be the end result.

The truth of the matter is, anyone looking to make a career of law enforcement in the park service, or with any other state or local park system, is going to get the training, no matter what they have to do.

I welcome any comments anyone may have for me, and please do not hesitate to contact me.
I will add my two cents. I graduated along with the eloquent ranger Stolts and the honorable ranger seales this last year. I myself have mixed feelings from the academy, impressed by the long hours dedicated to our class by both director Verse and various instructors, and dismayed by the lack of integrity by instructors in their instruction and with the handling of certain situations by the director.

I am now a law enforcement ranger for the NPS and can attest that the SRJC provided above adequate training for the job. However, in my oppinion there were indeed instructors that were not just mediocre, but dangerous. I observed evoc instructors asleep (at least eyes closed and resting) in the back seat of vehicles and constantly making personal phone calls during training, and had one particular instructor react with extreme disgust and annoyance when I raised a concern over safety during our simunitions training. These instructors, along with numerous others for whom I am certain there are many negative evaluations remain at SRJC for whatever reasons.

I dont know how easy it is to find other instructors, but if the academy is to live up to the reputation established by Mr. Orr, the director would do well to replace many instructors, hopefully with those within the NPS. This shouldnt be too dificult, given the proximity of two very large parks.
While I have tried to avoid responding to this article I wish to set a couple of issues straight regarding the SRJC Ranger Academy program. The comments by Mr. Foster about disrespecting Bill Orr are not correct. I have been the Dean of Public Safety for 22 years and Director of the Training Center.
Bill Orr worked for me and it was at my request that he stayed an extra year to open at Windsor. Now to say we in any way replaced Bill in his instructional capacity is not true. He requested to move into full retirement. Now for the part about Scott Verse somehow disrespecting Bill is completely false and let me give you evidence of his respect for Bill. First when I ask Bill who he thought might be a good replacement for him Bill gave me two names-Dave Long and Scott Verse. The exact people I hired. Dave Long created the Bill Orr award for leadership and Scott Dunn and Scott Verse built the memorial to Bill Orr at our Scanario Village. They worked to get donations and worked weekends to put up the Flag pole after the contractor placed the memorial stones next to our Park Headquarters. THESE TWO LOVED AND RESPECTED BILL .You could speak with any member of Bill's family and they would tell you so.
Lastly I need to clarify Scott Verse's history with the Ranger program. While it was correct to say he was a previous graduate Mr. Foster failed to mention he has taught in the program for years and all that conversation about his role in Firearms fails to mention his Certification as a FIrearms/Defensive Tactics/Perishable Skills/Recruit Training Officer and his state certification as a Academy Director.
My position and rules of confidentiality limit my ability to say more but on these issues I needed to clarify what I know to be the case in things spoken to me by Bill and what I have seen. Thanks for listening.

I was looking up the SRJC academy to attend in January 2010 when I came across this site. I was very interested in what everyone had to say. For those of you who are in the field, please respond to and let me know if you believe there are opportunities out there in this economy and if, in fact, you believe it is a sound academy.

Thank you!

I graduated the Santa Rosa Ranger Academy on March 19, 2010, class 119. We started with 39 and graduated (I think) 31 or 32.

Two weeks later I entered the POST Police Academy (intensive) class 168, and spent the next 20 weeks until I graduated, at the same facility. (19 in, 16 out)

In our first defensive training class in the POST Academy, about 2 hours into the class during non handcuffed searching drills, the DT instructor (btw the Chief DT instructor was former USPP now local city pd) yelled "GUN"!!! .. Everybody dumped their suspect on the ground, and pulled a hand out with a "finger" pointing at the suspect. (the Dt instructor went crazy!).. except for me - I was the only one who instinctively drew my gun and pointed the gun at the suspect, after stepping back and moving off line, like it was drilled into me in ranger academy...

We had many good instructors in ranger academy from the NPS (including the GGNRA Chief Ranger, Kim Coast and the PT Reyes Chief Ranger, David Shifsky), our DT instructors were both NPS Rangers (Eddy and Buehl) (one had retired from the USPP prior to his ranger service), our federal law and traffic accident investigation course was taught by a GGNRA NPS ranger (Mike Hardin), we had an NPS ranger in the range, our crime scene class was taught by a former ranger (Scott Dunn) (now an LT with the local S.O.), our OC Class was taught by a former county Ranger ( Jeff Clemons), our scenarios were administered by a former county ranger, report writing was taught by an NPS Chief Ranger, we had NPS rangers teaching classes that came from other states, other parts of California, etc etc.

I personally saw Scott Verse giving time and help after hours, on his days off (considering budget cuts from SRJC limited his time there to like 12 hours a week!).

I know he spent his own time helping to build the realistic campground area to provide us with scenario training areas..

I could go on and on but trust me on this - the training and instruction were top notch - and I went into the police academy with a lot of confidence.... truthfully if I hadn't graduated the ranger academy I don't believe I would have made it through police academy..

Contact me with any questions you might have about SRJC Ranger Academy.

Out of 31 graduated, 26 landed ranger jobs for the summer season, 2 were too young, two went into first responder training prepping for emt - and me, I went into police academy.

Jonathan Seutter

PS The targets we shot at in ranger academy were smaller than the ones we used in police academy