Nearly 28 years after the fact, Chris Mohrman still loves his job.
Mohrman, a Belleville native, became an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police Officer in 1989. For the past 24 years, he has been based in Jackson County. His last day on the force will be Dec. 31.
If given the opportunity, Mohrman would do it all again.
“In a heartbeat,” he said. “That’s what I knew I wanted to do out of high school.
“I think I made the most of it. There are times you might want to push it a little more. I’m satisfied. I treated the people right. I was fair to people. A lot of the supervisors might think I’ve been too kind.”
During his career, Mohrman spent time as a canine officer. He also was a firearm training officer for the department. The most satisfying elements of the job for Mohrman were helping people and catching bad guys.
“The neat part about this job is the diversity,” he said “In five minutes they can call me for a drowning, or someone busted their butt falling out of a tree stand. It’s always something different. Just when you get burned out on deer hunting, boom, it’s duck season.”
Through the years he has worked on caviar, commercial fishing, waterfowl and deer-hunting cases.
While the job has remained largely the same, the tools of the trade have changed. Technology, particularly the use of sonar in locating drowning victims, has been the biggest change Mohrman has seen in nearly 30 years of law enforcement.
“It’s just quicker,” he said. “If we have a good location where someone goes down, we run the sonar over it, and there he was. We can mark them. In the old days we would do body recoveries that lasted a week.
“When I started we had like three radio stations, we could barely talk to the state police. Now, I can stand in my driveway I can talk to guys in Chicago.”
One other major change is that poaching isn’t the issue it was when Mohrman joined the force. He has several theories, ranging from education to more lenient game rules. A generation ago, hunters would enter a lottery for a deer tag. Now, deer tags can be purchased over the counter at sporting goods stores.
“They aren’t growing up grabbing a case of beer and spotlighting deer,” he said. “There are better things to do. There is a real attitude now to be right on everything. The old hardcore poacher types, they’re rare. We still get some calls. It might be too that we don’t have the limitations on permits and we have a lot of game. I think they have seen progress there.”
In recent years, CPOs have been dealing with more property line disputes than poaching cases.
“Now, we’re acting like referees,” Mohrman said. “The week before gun season is real big for us. They’re fighting over stands too close to property lines. That will wear you out pretty quick because you are mediating.”
During the first firearm deer season he worked with hunters and landowners to locate two deer. The deer had been shot on public land, but were tracked to private property.
His primary regret? The financial condition of IDNR.
“We don’t have any money,” Mohrman said. “And we’re short-handed. We’ve always been kind of short-handed. When I leave, I’m leaving this eight-county district with four officers. We’ve never been abundant with manpower; I hate that. You have people calling you with stuff and you can’t respond.”
As for retirement plans, it will be his turn to do some hunting and fishing.