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Thursday, June 17, 2004 05:59 pm

Grace about town

Take Grace to Work Day

On the case

I recently met Kevin Hughes, an officer with the Illinois State Police. He came to "Grace Talk #1," and I felt well-protected, knowing there was a law enforcement official in the audience. In case there was a shoot-out.

I keep thinking Kevin's title is Grand Quartermaster Brigadier General, but that's completely wrong. It's Master Sergeant, which is almost as impressive, even though I'm not exactly sure what it means.

This is the first of my occasional series of hanging out with different folks at their jobs. I call it "Take Grace to Work Day." And I figured leading off with a cop would be an excellent starting place.

First, I have to tell you a story Kevin told me. It's about fear.

When Kevin was a rookie, a guy had killed his brother-in-law, chopped him into pieces and stuffed them down the garbage disposal. When the disposal got stopped up, the murderer called a plumber, who found eyeballs and fingers clogging the drain. The murderer was arrested, later pleaded insanity, and was sent to a mental institution. There, he charmed a female worker into getting him a gun and helping him escape. He told her the police would never take him alive.

Kevin went to the flophouse where the man was holed up. He was the only officer who had his bulletproof vest and shotgun with him, so they picked him to burst into the room when they kicked the door down and face the man with the gun who said he wouldn't be taken alive.

When they broke the door down and Kevin rushed in, gun pointed, the man had hidden his own gun and was utterly terrified by Kevin's shotgun, so everything turned out OK. No more deaths.

But can you imagine the fear a person would have in this situation? Facing the man who would have no hesitancy about shooting you to death, who had said he would not be taken alive? I, personally, cannot even conceive of this kind of fear.

OK, so here's the thing -- Kevin was in The Wizard of Oz last year at the Springfield Muni (his roles included Winkie Guard and dancing poppy). And he told me the fear he felt at doing the singing audition was three times greater than his fear of being killed by the crazy man.

I think everybody who has auditioned for Muni would appreciate this story, and if you haven't auditioned for Muni, well, you should have much more respect for those of us who have faced it and lived to tell the tale.

Anyway, Kevin is an Internet investigator. He told me some top secret things about how he goes about it, and he said they'd have to kill me if I told anybody, so you see why I can't tell you.

Kevin is ISP's only proactive Internet investigator in the entire state. This alarms me, and he couldn't really give me a good answer why there aren't more state police doing this same thing. A big part of his job is seeking out pedophiles online by posing as fictitious children, and when the pedophiles arrange to meet him (thinking he's really a 14-year-old girl, for example), Kevin brings along a team of cops and arrests the guy. One time he had to take a SWAT team (a total of 21 people), because the pedophile was a former cop.

Kevin showed me the special computer where he finds child pornographers. I figured there was lots of this going on, but was horrified to see how quickly scores of sites came up on the computer (he didn't show me any of the actual photos). Tracking down the pedophiles can take months, but Kevin can wrap up a porn case in a few hours. He said even though they're put in jail for pornography, a high percentage who go through counseling in prison then admit to being pedophiles as well.

Kevin said sometimes he feels like a lone sheriff in the Wild West. The number of Internet pedophiles has been growing for the past 10 years, and there has been an Illinois State Police Internet investigative unit since 1999. I ask again, why is Kevin the only one? There are a few cops who investigate cases when complaints are filed, but why is there only one single state cop proactively hunting down and putting these guys in prison?

As you can imagine, Kevin's job is quite stressful. It's a little overwhelming, thinking about how much stress a job like this would put on a person, and I'm amazed at how Kevin appears to be so cheerful and balanced.

He does this by being very active. In addition to the Muni, he also takes ballet, tap, and ballroom dance. He's going cycling in Ireland for a week, and he's planning on two marathons two weekends in a row in the fall. I questioned the sanity of this last item, telling him he might die after (or even during) the second marathon, but after, seeing the stuff he has to go through at work, I told him it's OK for him to run as much as he wants.

Because he's an investigator, he got me to confess that I'm also a massage therapist. I told him I'd be happy to give him a massage to help with the stress reduction. A massage would be much less hazardous to his health than facing armed men or running back-to-back marathons. Or auditioning for Muni.


Contact Grace Smith at grace@illinoistimes.com. Read more at graceuncensored.com. To see her latest video, check the link with her column at www.illinoistimes.com

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