SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Nick McMillen is two weeks into the job. 

The new Illinois State Police trooper is fresh out of the academy, where he was his cadet class president. 

He asked his class to do one thing. 

“Always live up to the standards of the ISP. Integrity, service and pride are not just things that we do, but it’s how we do it and how we live our lives,” McMillen said.

He didn’t come up with that part of his speech on his own. He copied it from his older brother Brian. He too was his ISP cadet class president, but shortly into being a trooper, he was killed in the line of duty. He died after a drunk driver crashed into his patrol car just south of Illiopolis in 2007. 

“I was at the services for his brother and I know his parents personally, I know him personally and to see him go out across that stage,” Sgt. Tracy Lillard, a patrol officer with ISP, said. “Just to know how excited he was and that his dream has come true.”

McMillen was only seven years old when his brother died, so the memories of brian are few and far between. He’s learned plenty about him from others who also called him family. 

“Didn’t have a whole lot of time to truly get to know Brian,” McMillen said. “I’ve gotten to know brian through other people through my siblings through troopers. I knew him and other people that knew him.”

Law enforcement was never at the front of McMillen’s mind when he was younger. He didn’t want to be a trooper then. He was well into engineering school before he ever thought about joining law enforcement, but in his junior year of college, he got what he describes as a calling. 

But once he got that calling, his drive was clear. It was clear enough to convince even his parents.

“When I talked to them, I was a little nervous. But they knew that this wasn’t just ‘oh, he just wants to go do it,’” McMillen said. “Then when I explained everything to them, they were like, ‘wow, this you are getting a calling.’”

McMillen’s class is part of a much larger hiring surge for the state police. The department’s budget was increased to record highs, and most of that increase is for bringing in new cadet classes. 

“We’ve been doing a hiring push for several months now trying to get to 300,” Lillard said.

Like most law enforcement agencies, recruitment has been a struggle for the state police. Combine that with a stagnant or sometimes decreased budget, and an increased number of retirees, and it spelled major problems for the agency. It led to backlogs in evidence processing, foid card renewals and other issues for the agency.

“There’s a shortage of workers across the United States,” Lillard said. “So it’s not just in law enforcement. But I feel like there’s still those people that just have that desire to serve.”

McMillen’s class of 21 is the latest in that push for 300 new cadets. So far this year, five cadet classes have graduated from the academy, for a total 91 cadets, and another is coming in October.