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Richard Fairburn started his professional public service career as a full-time firefighter and part-time police office, but soon switched to full-time law enforcement.
He graduated from Western Illinois University in 1982 with a degree in law enforcement administration and in 1983 from the Illinois State Police Academy's Basic Peace Officer course. During his police career, he has served as a patrol officer, deputy sheriff, investigator, chief deputy sheriff, chief of police, and criminal intelligence analyst. In 1978, Fairburn attended the Illinois Police Training Institute's Police Firearms Instructor School, obtaining NRA instructor certifications in pistol, rifle, shotgun, and police firearms. Since 1999, he has served as a full-time police trainer and program manager at a state police academy in the Midwest.