Illinois bill aims to attract high school students to be first responders

(The Center Square) – A new proposal aims to give students a direct path from high school graduation to police and firefighter careers. 

Police and firefighter shortages are an issue for many communities across Illinois. State Rep. Dave Vella, D-Rockford, told The Center Square that the workforce is aging and vacancies need to be filled. 

Vella introduced House Bill 1374 to give local high school students a community college track that will lead directly to law enforcement and firefighting careers.

“I’m a firm believer in giving kids who walk across the high school graduation stage a place to walk into,” said Vella, a former criminal defense attorney. “Either college or a job or an apprenticeship program.”

Vella’s vision is to develop a two-year community college degree that includes an internship in police work or firefighting. When the students complete the two-year associate degree, they will be prepared to take the police or the firefighter academy tests.

Vella sees community college education as a critical component.

“We are not just training police officers and firefighters. You get together with community colleges and you are training people,” Vella said. 

At many Illinois high schools, seniors have the option to take a critical technical education course that introduces them to public safety. If HB 1374 becomes law, interested students will have a direct path from high school graduation to police and firefighter careers. 

“Give them a place to go or you are going to lose them,” Vella said. 

Offering a community college associate degree along with internships designed by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board is the pipeline that Vella envisions.

“If we can get the students to stick around, they are more likely to stay and become police officers here,” Vella said. 

Police training in Illinois consists of a 12-week course. The training includes learning police procedures and learning field skills and weapons use. Adding a two-year associate degree to regular police training will attract recruits, Vella said. 

In addition to college courses, students will get police or firefighter internships that prepare them to take the police and firefighter exams. The students will have the opportunity to study the U.S. Constitution, history, English or philosophy – whatever they want. 

“They will become better police officers and better people,” Vella said.

Illinois has some of the best community colleges in the country, Vella said. He has been working with Rock Valley College, which, like community colleges across the state, has a diverse population of students from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Community colleges like Rock Valley draw from a hyper-local pool of students who have local roots, Vella said. 

“The students know the streets and the people and the neighborhoods,” he said. “If those young people walk into our police departments, it’s just going to make those departments better and stronger.”

Vella is convinced that crime will go down.

“There is a problem with getting people to do the job. This is a way to get local kids interested in the jobs,” Vella said. 

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via rk2’s favorite articles on Inoreader

March 21, 2023 at 12:36PM

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