CHICAGO (CBS) — As the numbers of murders and shootings in Chicago continue to rise, the cries for more police officers have been getting louder.
The city is answering with hundreds of recruits now training at the police academy.
CBS 2’s Mai Martinez spent the day with recruits on Tuesday, to find out who they are, and why they want to serve and protect.
As recruits lined up on the range at the Chicago Police Academy, some were clearly anxious to fire their weapon. For some it was their first time, but given the assignments awaiting them-should they graduate-likely not the last.
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said, “They’re going to go to some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city.”
Despite the danger and uncertainty of the job, hundreds are still answering the call to serve and protect. The newest class of 63 having just started Oct. 5, 2012.
Drills often included being yelled at and berated by instructors, but it’s all part of their training. McCarthy said officers often encounter hostility in the field, and must learn how to handle themselves when faced with verbal abuse.
As one instructor screamed, “Are you sure you want to participate?” the recruits shouted back “yes, sir” to show their commitment. When given the out by the instructor shouting, “Anybody want to go home right now>” the recruits bellowed back with a resounding “no, sir!”
The academy’s Deputy Chief Howard Lodding said it’s encouraging to see so many eager recruits.
“Even in our times when things are pretty dangerous, you’re seeing officers get shot at more, violence increasing, yet you still have people that want to enter this profession and do a good job for the community,” he explained
Many of those answering the call are native Chicagoans. Some are fed up with the death and destruction in their neighborhoods.
Nicholas Malone is one them. He grew up on Chicago’s West Side, and said it was seeing innocent children killed by gang violence that drove him to want to be a police officer.
“They have nothing to do with it. They’re robbed. They’re robbed of a life,” he said.
As future police officers, Malone and his fellow recruits believe they can be positive role models – leading by example.
“I always wanted to show the kids in my community that you don’t have to resort to gangs. You don’t have to resort to violence. You can do more, and you can become more,” Malone said.
Malone will be the first officer in his family.
Fellow recruit Jose Rivera said he feels the same way, after watching gang violence unfold in his native Humbolt Park.
Growing up, Rivera remembers seeing his uncle proudly wearing his Chicago Police uniform.
“I’ve had positive influence in my life, which led me in the direction of law enforcement. Hopefully, one day, I can be a positive influence for somebody else and lead them in the right direction,” Rivera said.
But not all recruits have ties to law enforcement or even the city. Some join because they can’t turn a blind eye to the violence. Melissa Bruchett. who grew up in the suburbs. is one of them.
“Instead of turning a shoulder on a society that’s getting pretty bad, it’s time we come together and make a change,” she explained.
Bruchett could have been a suburban cop, but she said she chose Chicago because she felt that’s where she could make the biggest difference.
It’s the one thing all the recruits share—a desire to make Chicago a better, safer place.
“I know I can make a difference,” said a confident Rivera.
It’s clear the recruits have the heart to make it happen. Now the academy just has to give them the skills to do so. It’s something both the instructors and recruits are both confident can happen.
McCarthy said he expects 500 new officers to be hired by the end of this year. He said that should be enough to cover attrition, and leave a few extra officers for patrol.
However, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police said that’s not nearly enough to replace the 1,500 officers who have retired over the past three years.