IL: DNR planning to tweak its CPO strategy

Anna, Ill. – The number of CPOs patrolling the state’s woods and
waters has been shrinking, creating concern among hunters and
anglers who rely on DNR officers to monitor those who do not play
by the rules.

DNR is in the process of shaking up its organization to meet the
challenge and cover more ground with what it has, DNR Director Marc
Miller said during the recent youth waterfowl hunt in Union
County.

“The reason for that is we’re losing law-enforcement
professionals to retirement,” Miller said. “With those reductions
in force we have wanted to make sure we get the enforcement spread
around.”

Miller agreed to an interview after the banquet and explained
how the agency found itself in the precarious position.

“What’s happening is that we see a recruitment class come in
(with) 15 or 18 men and women. They will serve and hit their
retirement age all at the same time. So we’re hitting a class of
individuals all leaving – well, not all are ready to leave, but
many of them are going – and that’s causing some gaps in our
coverage.”

Miller said that more senior officers are located in downstate
Illinois, so with the retirements pending, they are preparing to
allow officers to bid on district assignments. He added, “all of
our younger officers are in northeastern Illinois. The
reorganization is in preparation for CPOs to be assigned to new
districts.”

Because of their seniority, many of the ones who are more senior
have moved to southern Illinois “so they can enjoy the places that
we live,” Miller said. “A lot of junior members on the force live
in north districts of Illinois, so we’re going to reorganize a
little bit to allow people to bid on those jobs, so we can make it
more even.”

Currently in Illinois, there are many counties without a game
warden assigned to them.

“The bottom line is that we do need more officers, and we hope
to have a new opportunity to have a new recruiting class soon, but
it takes 18 months to train an officer,” Miller said.

Once conservation police recruits have completed the Illinois
State Police academy, they have to go through specialized training,
such as learning the wildlife code and other areas specific to what
game wardens will encounter in the job.

“We really are reducing our force,” Miller said. “I’m fighting
to get a class of recruits, but $4 million is really hard to come
up with. That’s doing it the traditional way. We’re starting to
think outside the box. What can we do to get bodies? But we also
want to make sure we maintain the professionalism we already have.
These guys are phenomenal. They are hard-core professionals. They
are very special, and I do not want to lessen that professionalism
or quality of individuals by doing it a different way. It’s very
hard. We’re looking at everything.”

The Conservation Police are not the only personnel that Miller
wants to build up. He is also looking to bring on new frontline
staff for the field.

During his remarks to the youth attending the hunt banquet,
Miller several times mentioned his appreciation of DNR
employees.

Later he expanded on those comments:

“That’s not a job where you clock in and go home and don’t worry
about it,” he said. “These people really care, and I’m very proud
to serve with them, and I’m proud to be a part of their team as
well. I’m grateful to all of them. I really do mean it. They’re
tremendous.”

Miller continued, “I want the employees to know that we are
doing everything we can to try to bring the agency back around and
to refocus the agency and to put resources where they are most
needed. So we are working through that so that’s what I was saying
to them tonight, that help is on the way and that we are working
very hard on that.”

Miller cited the decline of both the budget and staff that has
hit the department in the last decade as a hurdle that he is
encountering now.

“We have an agency [that] for the last 10 years, the previous
two governors, has been in decline,” he said. “Our employees, 10
years ago, were at 2,600. Now we’re below 1,300. We have general
revenue portion of our budget that is paid from general tax dollars
that has gone from $100 million 10 years ago to this year $46
million. So we have been in decline for a long time, and what we
want to do is to arrest that frontline and to be able to reverse
that and start hiring more frontline professionals. We’re working
on that. We hope that in the near future we’ll see some new hires
to help rebuild that frontline at DNR.”

Miller said that he has had to do “a lot of things that other
directors before me never had to think about – or ignored.”

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