CHICAGO — The Illinois State Police have seen a slow but steady decline in the number of troopers, leaving many to wonder if there are enough officers to patrol roads and oversee the concealed-carry gun program.
The number of troopers has dropped by almost 20 percent throughout the past 20 years, according to data from the state police. Spending cuts, retirements, new duties and a recent state budget stalemate have been factors.
“This is a gradual deterioration that has occurred in both Democratic and Republican administrations,” said Brendan Kelly, acting director of the state police. “While that has happened, the responsibilities and duties set forth by the Legislature have only grown.”
The Chicago Tribune reports there are efforts to rebuild the force, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposing $7 million to train two new cadet classes at the police academy.
Officials also are trying to come up with ideas to bring in more applicants, including a reassessment of the educational requirements for the job.
Kelly, who was selected by Pritzker to run the agency, said he’s open to ending a four-year college degree requirement for recruits and instead requiring an associate degree.
State police employed 1,794 troopers in 2018, a steep decline from the 2,201 troopers in 2001.
Trooper Christopher Lambert, 34, was fatally struck by motorist while directing traffic. In March, troopers Brooke Jones-Story, also 34, and Gerald Ellis, 36, were killed in separate crashes in two days. Sixteen troopers have been hit by vehicles this year, which is a historically high number.
Joe Moon, president of the Illinois police union, said orders from the Legislature, such as overseeing gun licenses for concealed-carry owners, have caused additional burdens by asking the agency to “do more with less.”
Moon said there aren’t enough troopers to regularly put at least one along roads in every county. He said motorists are taking advantage of it.
“When you can drive 300 miles and only see one trooper — that’s a problem,” Moon said. “People are driving with impunity, and they are driving distracted on top of that.”
The next class of trainees is scheduled to start Sunday at the academy in Springfield.