CLINTON, Ill. (WAND) - The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police serve in recreational areas across the state of Illinois.
Mainly found working around state parks, water ways and recreational areas, these officers do much more than that. Sgt. John Williamson has been on the force for over 20 years and said they are just like any other law enforcement officer, however, they mainly work with people out in nature.
"99 percent of the people we encounter are recreating, so we take that into consideration," explained Sgt. Williamson.
These officer work around the clock year round, during the spring/summer and into fall season they mainly work state parks and area with large bodies of water. Whereas in the late fall and winter and into spring they work wooded area and monitor hunting.
During the summer, Sgt Williamson and Officer Trent Reeves spend a lot of time patrolling central Illinois lakes. Clinton Lake is a popular destination for boaters and people wanting to take a break. These officers perform routine boat safety checks. Sgt. Williamson said the checks are to make sure everyone on the boat is safe, as well as other boaters around them.
During their inspection, officers go through a check list. They look for life jackets, by law everyone on board the boat needs a life jacket and anyone under the age of 13 must have a jacket on at all times. Officers look for boaters registration and check if it is placed in the right place on the boat. Other things officers look for are fire extinguishers, a working horn and a throw-able. They also check to make sure the boat's battery has a strap.
Officers also use these checks as a way to catch drivers operating boats under the influence.
Officer Reeves and Sgt. Williamson said they want people to have fun, but it all comes down to safety.
"It's public safety. Public safety is number one," said Sgt. Williamson, as he spoke about his role being a conservation officer.
As of July 2019, there are three officers and one sergeant patrolling nine counties in the central Illinois region. Officer Reeves and Sgt. Williamson are just two of those four working.
Sgt. Williamson said while it's a pretty lengthy process to become a conservation officer, he said it is well worth it.
"I enjoy everyday and I"m the type, if I don't enjoy what I do I would go and do something else," said Sgt. Williamson. "Everyday coming to work, enjoying my job is great and being able to help people."
A person interested in being a CPO must have a Bachelor's Degree or an Associate's Degree and three consecutive years of experience as a police officer with the same law enforcement agency. The testing and hiring processes requires a written exam, a POWER test, a SWIM test, an oral interview, a background investigation, a psychological examination and a medical examination.
If hired, CPOT's must attend a total of 28 weeks in two separate Academy training programs. The first is a 14-week Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards program. The second is a 14-week basic Conservation Police Officer Trainee Course.