SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — At the busy corner of Sixth and Lawrence, just a few blocks from Abraham Lincoln’s home, and across the street from the Illinois State Police headquarters sits a sobering reminder of 71 state troopers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Very few people pay the price that they did.
Director Brendan Kelly, a former prosecutor, was sworn in to lead the state police in January of 2019.
Four state troopers died in the line of duty that year, more than any other year in the 100-year history of the force.
“The troopers that are here that the ones that are near and dear to my heart,” Kelly said.
First it was trooper Chris Lambert in January. Then, two months later, trooper Brooke Jones-Story in March. Two days later, trooper Gerald Ellis died. All three were killed on the road.
In August 2019, trooper Nick Hopkins was serving a search warrant when he was shot and killed.
“That was a tough one,” Kelly said. “They’re all tough. They all leave a mark.”
Just last month, trooper Todd Hanneken died in a crash. His name is now etched in stone near where he swore “to protect the rights, property and lives of our citizens.”
“We have to have these brave men and women,” Kelly said. None of this works, without those protectors, without those guardians, without people who are upholding the values that the ISP does, which is that integrity, and that willingness to serve.”
While Kelly understands the calls for greater accountability from police…
“We’ve certainly come through a period of scrutiny for the profession,” Kelly said.
He points to the message on this memorial, that borrows inspiration from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “For us, the living, to pay respects to the sacrifice of the fallen, by advancing their pursuit of a safer state.”
“We seek justice and safety for all,” Kelly said.
Over the last century, the state police ranks grew from eight to 1,800.
“The original vehicles were actually surplus from World War One,” Kelly said. “World War One motorcycles that were left over from the First World War that many years ago with only eight troopers at the time,” Kelly said.
Now with record funding and a mission to hire the largest class of new recruits ever, Kelly will oversee the largest expansion of state police in history. With new tools at their disposal, the state police will set their sights on solving and preventing violent crime.
“We all want freedom, we all want safety, we all want justice,” Kelly said. “But none of that is possible without the law. And you cannot have the law, you cannot have the law without law enforcement.”