New Illinois bill could bring more locals to first responder program

Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 7:40 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Local police and fire departments who may have trouble with recruitment may be in luck if a bill in the Illinois House of Representatives gets enough support from state lawmakers.

State Rep. Dave Vella (D-68) introduces a new bill that could add more police and fire personnel locally through a two-year program at community colleges like Rock Valley College. This is something Vella’s been working on for more than a year and a half.

“I realized from talking to a lot of police officers, I left friends who are police officers, that the numbers of people applying are down and then start talking to firefighters, it’s the same thing.”

Currently, high schoolers can take a fire safety and public safety course during their senior year. The goal behind this bill is to get incoming college freshmen who want to work in the police or fire department to obtain an associate’s degree through a two-year course at a community college. That way after graduation they can have the ability to become a police officer or firefighter.

Vella says this can not only get more first responders on the streets, but it can also lead to a more diverse police force.

“We have a vibrant immigrant community. We have African American descent, Latino descent. We want our police force to look that way.”

In order to become a police officer under the current Illinois law, you must go through the Illinois Training Standards Board. Vella says he wants to get this type of training into local community colleges. It will be a two-year course instead of a 12-week course, which could lead to better training and more hands-on experience before they enter the workforce.

“People who go to RVC are from around RVC, which means they know the area. I firmly believe that police officers and firefighters from the area who know the streets who know the neighborhoods are much more likely to have likely to stay and really create roots in the community.”

Since most people who graduate from a community college are under 21 years old, Vella plans to have some sort of apprenticeship program with local police departments until new recruits can get a FOID card at age 21.

Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana says if this bill passes, having this program in community colleges will be worth the price of tuition.

“We’ve gotten a lot of a lot of people through RVC and different areas, but I think if this dives down a little bit deeper that we can have them come over here and train in our facility and us being involved in showing them exactly what it’s like. Again, it’s like an internship, but they’re actually going to school and learning it,”

Sheriff Caruana adds the department also wants to implement a regional training facility in the old Winnebago County jail.

Vella plans to have this bill passed sometime this year. The House of Representatives is currently in its spring session until May 2023.