The Illinois State Police is setting up shop at internship fairs in a search for new officers. This includes an event next week at Northern Illinois University.
ISP has more than 2,000 sworn officers spread across 21 districts. Officers say there isn't a single factor pushing them to recruit new troopers. But they admit that attrition and the two-year budget impasse had an effect on their ranks. Sgt. Hector Alejandre says much of their work takes place on major state roads.
"Our main function within the Illinois State Police is patrol," he said. "We're vested and entrusted with enforcing the traffic and criminal laws of the State of Illinois."
This can include responding to accidents and writing citations. But Sgt. Alejandre says ISP wants to emphasize the "protect and serve" aspects of the job.
"I've helped many people off the interstate," he said. "Anything from changing a flat tire, to driving someone to the gas station because they ran out of gas, to keeping somebody warm because we have blankets in our squad cars."
Trooper Aldo Schumann of District 2 echoes this sentiment.
"You can go from one day going to a school talking to kids, stranger danger," he said. "The next day, you're handling a really bad crash, and the next day you're comforting someone or changing a tire. So we wear many hats."
But for Schumann, it took time to reach his current position. He says it started with a family member.
"My brother-in-law is a special agent with state police. He's been on for over 20 years," Schumann said. "And when I would see him come to my folks' house when I was living with them, I see him in his uniform and I see his unmarked police car and I'm like, man, I really like that."
He started the recruitment process in the early 2000s, but wasn't eager to join the force at first.
"2004, I'm in the mortgage business, refi boom, bought my first condo, bought my first brand new car. I'm very proud, making great money," he said. "I actually declined going to the state police academy in 2004."
Schumann attended U of I Chicago, and then re-applied to ISP. He wasn't sure of his chances despite previous experience with the recruitment process.
"They're not going to pick me," he said. "Look at all these folks here. I still went through with it, I went through the process. I got the background investigation done and the interview. I got accepted again. I believe that was my calling. It was the best decision I've ever made."
Sgt. Alejandro says new recruits receive rigorous training at the Academy in Springfield. He characterizes the experience as intense but versatile.
"Your training will always carry your through, whether it's a firearms or emergency vehicle operations course, whether it's first responder, whether it's hazmat," he said. "There's just so much you're going to learn within 25 weeks."
From there, new officers are assigned to an ISP district.
"You're willing to accept assignment anywhere in the state of Illinois," Alejandro said. "Specifically for law enforcement officers or even military personnel who have been deployed to many parts of the world or even the nation. To uproot their families again and move to the other end of the state is sometimes difficult."
Some officers stay in specific districts and others transfer or travel between them. Sgt. Alejandro, for example, works in both northern Illinois and Springfield. He says the assignment to a district can be a turn-off for potential recruits, along with long hours and an unpredictable schedule.
But Schumann emphasizes that ISP can make use of many different backgrounds, not just those with criminal justice degrees.
"Everyone starts off on patrol. Everyone learns the road. We're not just the highway police," he said. "But there's so many avenues, so much room for opportunity and growth."
Some scientific majors have obvious applications in areas such as forensics or crime scene investigation. But Alejandro and Schumann say humanities degrees are by no means excluded. They give the example of someone with knowledge of a foreign language.
"You might be asked to translate one of these brochures into a different language. You might be asked to represent the department at an event or a conference," Alejandro said.
Schumann adds: "The person that's on call during a critical incident, and there's a language barrier and you're the go-to person, and they call you."
ISP will be present at Northern Illinois University's All-Majors Internship and Job Fair on February 19th. There, they will discuss opportunities such as internships and ride-alongs. Officers will also keep an eye out for their potential future colleagues.