LTEC students get close up of Illinois State Police aerial operations

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[October 11, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Wednesday, October 5, 2016, the Lincolnland Technical Education Center's Criminal Justice students had the opportunity to see a plane used by the Illinois State Police Air Operation Bureau and learn what it is used for.

LTEC has offered courses since 1967, but the Criminal Justice courses are new. Former Menard County Sheriff Larry Smith teaches the course and said he hopes to convince students to become cops. Smith said more people are needed in that field. He loved his career in law enforcement.

Smith also has a pilot's license, and said he wanted students to learn about the work of the Air Operations Bureau.

Damien Zimmerman and Nick Jeffers are part of the Air Operation Bureau and flew the plane into the Logan County Airport so the students could see it firsthand. Both had commercial pilot's license when they joined the Illinois State Police force, but were "ground troopers" for several years before joining the bureau.

Zimmerman and Jeffers showed students a video sharing the history of the Air Operations Bureau, which began in November 1959. Zimmerman and Jeffers are two of only eight people in Illinois' Air Operations Bureau and said the state only has four planes used by the bureau.

Smith asked them to explain some of the training required and the salary people make in the police force.

Zimmerman said training in the police academy lasts six months. It is paramilitary style and somewhat like boot camp. Those training get paid.

Zimmerman said a starting salary is around $38,000. Those in the force twelve years or more may make up to $100,000. A retirement pension is 80 percent of their pay during their final year on the force.

Smith told students, police who work in air operations could easily work for an airline after retirement since there is a shortage of pilots.

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After sharing some of the history, Zimmerman and Jeffers took the students out to see the plane.

On the side of the plane is a camera that contains a day camera and a forward looking infrared camera. The infrared camera helps to detect body heat when the police are looking for missing persons. Zimmerman and Jeffers used the plane for a search just this week.

The camera has a video function they used to stream video to the Army Corp of Engineers during last year's flooding. It is more stable than using a camcorder during flights.

Zimmerman and Jeffers said the planes are often used in a support function such as undercover surveillance for drug task forces like the Drug Enforcement Agency. They said of 602 flights this year, 34 percent were for surveillance. That may include criminal searches and searches for marijuana cash crops. When they find cash crops, ground units are sent in.

Zimmerman and Jeffers use binoculars when the camera does not work and often use night vision goggles when landing.

None of the students had been in a plane as small as the cargo plane used by the bureau and they enjoyed looking over the plane.

On this field trip, students were able to learn about another area of law enforcement. A few of them plan to become officers one day.

[Angela Reiners]


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