Trooper Kim Hart of the Illinois State Police calls in on the radio in her squad car.

Ever since she was 11 years old, Kim Hart wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement. At 29, she has been a proud member of the Illinois State Police Department for two years.

Hart grew up in Indianapolis and has lived in Vermilion County for the past seven years.

Only 6 percent of the state police force are women.

Master Sgt. John Thompson, who has been with the department for 13 years, said, “Trooper Hart and our other women officers are excellent employees, and they have made substantial contributions to the department.”

Right now Hart is assigned to road duty in Vermilion and Edgar counties. However, she may take assignments in any area of District 10, which includes Champaign, Coles, Douglas, Edgar, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt, Shelby and Vermilion counties.

She has already completed two years with the state police, and has the goal to someday transfer to the investigations division, which is her special interest. Some of the other areas that a state trooper may be assigned to include: K-9 handler, crime scene/forensics, commercial motor vehicle inspector, and riverboat officer.

“When I was in sixth grade, my older brother joined the Police Explorer volunteer program in Indianapolis,” Hart said. “I was fascinated with everything he was doing, especially the investigation part. From that point on my goal was to have a career in law enforcement.

“Some people thought I couldn’t do it, and many of my friends wondered why I would put myself through such rigorous training,” Hart said. “My dad still worries about my safety today.”

Staying in shape

Hart has always been very athletic. During high school she was involved in cross-country, track, swimming, gymnastics and softball. Today she regularly works out at the local gym, and she is training for a triathlon.

State police officers have to keep in shape because they are required to pass a physical fitness test every year. This test includes such maneuvers as sit-ups, running, arm reaches, and bench presses (based on body weight).

Hart also continues to improve her marksmanship skills. She shoots competitively, and she has qualified for the governor’s list of the top 20 marksmen in Illinois.

Hart admitted that her 26 weeks of police academy training were grueling.

“It’s what I imagine that basic training in the military would be like,” she said. “We had to walk the halls in a straight line and not make eye contact with anyone. We had uniform inspection every day, and all we did was drill, study, sleep and eat.

“After all the work I went through to be admitted to the academy, I wasn’t going to give up at that point,” Hart said. “I knew I was heading into the best career I could ever have.”

Starting salary for a first-year trooper in Illinois is $50,376, and it increases several times during one’s career. A state trooper is eligible for retirement after serving for 26 years and eight months. There are also excellent benefits that come with the job.

Thompson was quick to point out, however, that the job also carries with it a tremendous amount of responsibility and accountability.

A hard job

“Being a state trooper is not an easy job,” Thompson said. “It’s both physically and mentally demanding. There is a lot more procedure to follow, and paperwork, than most people would imagine.”

Also, every interaction that a trooper has with a motorist is videotaped and audiotaped, and then reviewed by his or her supervisor.

“I have the highest respect for every officer out there in the field,” Thompson said.

Hart has worked at a paying job in various offices and eating establishments since she was 14 years old. To prepare for entry into the police academy and a career in law enforcement, she gained experience by volunteering and working in that field.

She volunteered with the Police Explorers and also the civilian volunteer police. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana University in Indianapolis.

Hart then worked in corrections for two years, serving on the quick response team and emergency squad for a state prison. She also served with the Paris police department for nine months.

Admission into the state police academy is very competitive. Hart was one of 72 chosen for the cadet class out of several thousand applicants. Selection is based on scores on the physical fitness test, a written suitability (psychological) test, an oral inter-view and a background check.

After 26 weeks, she completed her training at the Illinois State Police Academy in Springfield. Only 63 members of Hart’s class of 72 graduated as sworn officers. She then completed 12 weeks in the officer field training program before going out on her own.

Gets respect

Hart doesn’t feel that she is treated any differently by her co-workers or by motorists because she is a woman.

“I believe that if a woman officer keeps a professional appearance and demeanor, then she will be treated with respect,” Hart said.

While she’s on duty, Hart carries a handgun, baton, handcuffs, and chemical spray. She also wears a bulletproof vest and large-brim hat — one of the identifying marks of an Illinois state trooper.

She drives the familiar white-and-yellow state police vehicle. When she is not being summoned to a crash site or to some other emergency situation, she is free to assist motorists who are in trouble, or to give tickets to violators. Hart said she gives more tickets for speeding and not wearing a seatbelt than for any other violation.

“Everybody isn’t cut out for law enforcement work,” Hart said, “but it has always been my dream — and I don’t give up on my dreams. This job is important because it’s all about keeping people safe.”

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