CHICAGO (CBS) — For the first time since 2003, the Chicago Police Department is launching a recruitment effort to put more officers on the street.

Mayor Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy are kicking off the drive today, with a particular focus on hiring minorities and increasing department diversity.

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Interested candidates have until Dec. 16 to apply.

The department is looking to hire between 300 and 500 new officers a year.

Interested candidates must take a written exam in February. When it was previously offered, 19,000 people took it.

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“We all know the environment that we’re living in, over past couple of years,” McCarthy said. “Some people say now is not the time to be a police officer. I say the opposite. It’s never been a more important time to make a difference in our community. It’s the most fulfilling thing you can do with your life.”

According to police statistics, crime fell 5 percent in October, compared with the same period a year ago.

However, the city had its deadliest September in more than a decade.

Police say the lower rates in October can be attributed to a gun buy-back program and improving police and community relations.

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