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Legislation Targets Conservation Police

Conservation police
DNR/D.J. Case and Associates

A group of lawmakers is challenging the broad powers enjoyed by Illinois' conservation police officers. At issue is whether the officers can operate on private land without a warrant.

Illinois law lets conservation police enter "all lands and waters" to enforce the Wildlife Code. The idea is, even if you have a huge private forest, you’re not allowed to, say, shoot a deer out of season.

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a Republican from Elmhurst, says just about every other type of police officer operates under stricter limits.

"If a state trooper wanted to go into your backyard to investigate what he thought something might be happening, he wouldn’t be able to do that unless he had probable cause, a warrant, or your permission," he says. Not so for the conservation police.

"A conservation police officer could go there without your permission, without your knowledge, to investigate whatever they might be investigating," he says.

Reboletti, a lawyer and former prosecutor, says as far as he knows, this has never been challenged in court. He's co-sponsoring legislation that would limit conservation police to public land — at least without permission, a warrant, or probable cause.

This is important because a significant amount of hunting in Illinois happens on private land, not in public parks.

He says the legislation is intended to jumpstart a conversation with the state’s Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the conservation police.

"What exactly do they need to enter somebody’s land?" Reboletti asks. "Maybe they need some type of reasonable suspicion, maybe a hunch. Something more than just the ability to 'you can go anywhere you want to go.' "

A spokesman for DNR would only say the agency is reviewing the legislation.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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