U.S. Army veteran Michael Filipiak of La Salle became a graduate of the first new Illinois Conservation Police Officer class since 2007, and was among 14 new CPOs welcomed this week by Gov. Pat Quinn at a graduation ceremony in their honor at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in Springfield.
Sgt. Robert Frazier has been in charge for the Illinois Valley area for 12 years, and in recent months has been overseeing CPOs throughout District 6 — much of northern Illinois and all of North-Central Illinois including large parks such as Starved Rock and Rock Cut state parks, plus rivers including the Illinois and Rock. At times, they’d been monitoring the parks, hunting and fishing areas and pleasure boating areas with a skeleton crew.
“This is a breath of fresh air,” Frazier said. “I’m getting four new guys in my district.”
He said there have been busy weekends in which he has been unable to simultaneously have patrols inside the busiest of the parks and also in patrol boats on the Illinois River. Frazier said he’s now really looking forward to next summer and being able to accomplish more and have more people in key locations.
The additional staffing will cut down on overtime, he said. A lot of times CPOs on day shifts would wind up working extra hours due to accidents, problems on the river, searches or just back-to-back-to-back calls.
Filipiak will start Jan. 4 in La Salle County, Frazier said.
Many of the recruits are from southern Illinois. Also joining the force will be Joseph Cochran of Carterville, to help handle Putnam County; Troy Lazzell of Rushville for DeKalb County and Mathew Viverito of Effingham for Winnebago County, Frazier said. He said this will be the most CPOs for the area in the past 12 years.
Frazier said the sheer volume of calls helped District 6 gain the four CPOs. This new recruit class brings the total number of Conservation Police officers in the state to 132. During its peak in the late 1970s, Illinois Conservation Police had as many as 189 officers on staff, the DNR said.
All-veteran class ready for new work
After a 2003-05 tour of duty in Iraq and 2009-10 tour deep within Afghanistan with the 33rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion of Machesney Park, 2003 La Salle-Peru Township High School graduate Filipiak enrolled at Illinois State University, graduating with a degree in politics and government. Shortly thereafter, he learned CPOs were needed, and beat out hundreds of applicants to get into the academy.
“It’s a dream job,” he said Friday evening. He said he’s looking forward to the variety of work he will encounter in La Salle County, because the CPOs in this area not only monitor fishing and hunting, but also police the river and watch for offenses ranging from traffic violations to drugs in the state parks.
He said the 12 weeks of Illinois State Police academy training was fairly simple after his military duty, but the 12-week conservation police training was a whole new set of lessons.
Fortunately, he and his classmates all were eager and ready to learn.
“It gives us a good background to be able to be disciplined and able to learn at a different level,” Filipiak said. “We all worked very well together.”
The recruits completed 24 weeks of intense general law enforcement training and specific conservation police training totaling nearly 1,000 hours to prepare them for their new jobs, according to the DNR and governor’s office.
This is the ninth Conservation Police officer class in the past 19 years, and it’s the first class to be made up entirely of military veterans, according to a DNR press release.
During the CPO Academy, recruits receive classroom instruction, field practical lessons, and scenario-specific training to develop skills of a Conservation Police officer. The areas covered include the wildlife code, fish and aquatic life code, Boat Registration and Safety Act, Snowmobile Registration and Safety Act, timber enforcement, endangered and threatened species, migratory waterfowl act, defensive tactics training, firearms training, boat operation and handling, all-terrain vehicle operation and handling, and vehicle maintenance and operation with trailers.