Lunch with Marjorie: Reinforcing resources and enforcing the law

The work that Illinois Conservation Police Officer Brian Alt does for our state fascinates me. I met him at Jessica’s in Roscoe for breakfast to discuss it in more detail. Brian ordered a Jessica’s favorite, biscuits and gravy. I went sweeter with French toast.

“There are so many different kinds of police,” I began.

He listed them for me: Illinois State Police; Secretary of State Police; county sheriffs; city police; conservation police. All have full police authority.

“Conservation police focus on natural resource protection and public safety,” he said.

“But you can stop someone for seat belt violation?” I said, distracted by Brian’s movie star good looks, beautiful blue eyes and wavy blond hair.

“Yes. D.U.I.s, drug arrests, warrant arrests—everything that everybody else does. We drive around in pickup trucks primarily.”

“I heard it’s illegal to remove the nest in my flower pot.”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “We’re talking about resource protection: hunting, fishing, boating, snowmobile, and timber laws.”

“Hunting and fishing in state parks and forest preserves?”

“Not forest preserves. The county sheriffs take care of that. We only deal with state parks, owned by our department.”

Our friendly server asked Brian if he wanted ketchup with his potatoes, leading to a discussion of ketchup uses. Brian turned it down.

“Did you want to be a policeman when you were a kid?”

“Um-hum,” he said.

“How did that ambition stick with you?”

“Hmm. That’s a good question. I grew up across the street from Rock Cut State Park and spent most of my summers going over there with a fishing pole. I ran cross country and track, so I ran the trails all the time. It was kind of my back yard. I had an interest in the outdoors and in law enforcement. I had a pretty strict upbringing. I was always the smallest kid in my class. Maybe it had something to do with…righting wrongs, holding people accountable for doing things to other people.”

“You were idealistic.”

“Very idealistic growing up, very organized, very regimented. Type A personality.”

I moved on to my personal critter problems.

“We have gophers in our yard. The rabbits eat all my veggies, herbs, and flowers.”

“First of all…your rules and regulations are free…public knowledge. (He spouted off the Web site I can direct you to two things: voluntary citizens…trained…nuisance trappers. But if you can show property damage, you can call the state police, and we can issue you a 30-day permit and tell you how to kill them.”

“We have a raccoon on our roof,” I pushed. His response surprised me.

“We have to remember that we’re invading wildlife’s turf. The more habitat-rich your property is, the more species you will have. With raccoons, there are so many of them in population in the state of Illinois. They’re like deer and coyotes…hundreds, thousands of them.”

“Do you hunt raccoons?”

“No, no. I did once. I thought it was imperative…to try as many different things as I could to help my discretion. I contacted one of our nuisance trappers and ran a trap line with him to see from a trapper’s perspective what things are difficult in staying within the law parameters…what laws could be easy to cross.”

“So creating ‘woods’ with prairie grasses to save my husband from mowing is probably bringing rabbits in.”

“The beautification, what you’re calling amenities, can create habitat for wildlife—appealing habitat.”

“What’s hard about your work?”

“Death notifications…fatal snowmobiling accidents, fatal boat accidents, suicides, having to go to the families, and sit down with them with the coroner, and go through the death notifications. Those aspects of the job are difficult.”

Brian has reflections on public attitudes after 14 years of service.

“It’s my perception…that respect for authority and for law enforcement is diminishing…becoming more volatile. Those things are disconcerting. There’s a level of arrogance. People…seem to want what they want…don’t care about anybody else, or any governmental body trying to tell them you can’t do that because it’s against the law. One of the challenges in law enforcement is to maintain your idealism and objectivity and not get wrapped up in the cynicism.”

“Have you succeeded with that?”

“It’s a challenge. Not every day. I think when you become cynical, and you forget that the badge means public service first, and you let those things get to you, I think it’s time to get out of this career choice.”

“How about the rewards?”

“As far as rewarding law enforcement careers go, in my mind, resource protection is where it’s at. You deal predominantly with sportsmen and good people…mostly reasonable people. Protecting the resource is very, very important. You’re not only renewing the resource, you’re solving…protecting. It’s very, very rewarding.”

From the Sept. 21-27, 2005, issue

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