Four-time LEEP scholar gets her first job with paid training
— By Jennifer Gomori, POJ Editor
Lena Illig was the first Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP) Dream Scholar to receive a scholarship each of her four years of college. Now that’s she graduated, Illig reached out to LEEP to give thanks for helping her achieve her dream of becoming a Police Officer.
“I wanted to inform you and the scholarship committee that I was finally hired as a Law Enforcement Officer in Florida,” Illig wrote in an email to LEEP. “I wanted to thank you for all of the years of awarding me scholarships, as it really paid off. I finally achieved my goal of being a police officer.”
Illig, who is from Alaska, was hired by Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in Pensacola, Florida as a full-time Police Cadet Oct. 9. In November, she began her police academy training to become a certified Police Officer. The Sheriff’s Department is paying for the academy and providing her a full-time salary during her training.
“I was looking for positions in the lower 48. I’ve been in Alaska for so long that I wanted to venture out. My significant other is also down here in training for the military,” she said. “He’s an Officer with the Marines and luckily I was offered a position here. It’s a very ideal situation.”
Illig graduated University of Alaska in December 2016 with a Criminal Justice bachelor’s degree and began working as a legal assistant at Pradell and Associates in Anchorage, a law firm that specializes in domestic violence and divorce. She also worked for Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska on her campaign, gathering voter information. When her boyfriend, Alphonzo Allen, whom she met in college, moved to Florida to attend flight school for the Marines, Illig decided to pursue her police career in the South.
Moving from Alaska to Florida had its challenges. “I moved here at the hottest part of the year – the beginning of July,” she said. “It was unbearable some days. It would be up to 103, 104 (degrees). I can’t wear most of the clothes that I wore in Alaska. They’re too hot. I have to redesign my wardrobe.”
The culture was also a bit of a shock. “It’s kind of hard to adapt to the culture in the South. It is so different. The food here is much less healthy than it is in the North,” Illig said. However, the people are very welcoming to the former Northerner. “I noticed people in the South want to talk about their families and their pets and their home life. They’re very talkative and hospitality is a big thing. In the North, people want to get their business done and move forward with their day. They’re in a big hurry,” Illig said. “Everybody here wants to invite you in their home and talk for an hour. I’m used to getting to the point and moving forward.”
Another big difference is the pay for Police. “The biggest frustration about living in the South is the pay is much lower than in the North, but also the cost of living is much lower,” she said. “Police make $15 an hour, where in Anchorage it’s about $30 an hour. I think that’s kind of shameful. Police Officers put their lives on the line every day and they make $15 an hour. It just blows my mind.”
Illig accomplished a lot in her college years gaining ample law enforcement experience as: a University of Alaska (UAA) Army ROTC cadet; a member of Anchorage Police Citizens Academy, American Criminal Justice Association Lambda Alpha Epsilon, Women in Federal Law Enforcement, UAA Justice Club, Alaska Peace Officers Association, Women Police of Alaska and a UAA Emerging Leaders Program, organizing numerous justice events. She represented National Guard Youth Foundation; worked at Aviation Medical Services of Alaska and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest; was an on-call volunteer with Anchorage Police Search and Rescue Team and a Crisis Hotline volunteer for Standing Together Against Rape. She also graduated Alaska Military Youth Academy; participated in police ride-alongs; and served as an underage buyer for Alcohol Beverage Control Board in Anchorage.
She realizes not everyone pursuing a law enforcement career will be able to participate in as many programs and organizations as she was able to and said no matter how much experience they have, the most important thing they can do is, “Keep their nose out of trouble. It’s huge in this field,” Illig said. “Police departments in the United States have a hard time finding people to hire. Really be careful about the people you associate yourself with and always make the decision with the most integrity because it will pay off in the long run.”
The 25-year-old is happy to be employed and enjoying learning the ropes, going on ride-alongs and working in records and dispatch. “I’m getting a feel for it because I’m going through different units in the department,” Illig said. “The best part of the job is just being able to pursue the goal that I’ve been chasing so long and still being able to come home at the end of the night and getting paid for what I do rather than having to pay for the academy. It’s just a really ideal situation right now and I couldn’t ask for any better.”
Now that she’s met her goal of being hired by a police department, Illig is onto her next pursuit … to do the best job she can working as a law enforcement officer.