The latest Chicago Police data show 446 murders for 2012, up 21 percent from last year. With the murder rate surpassing the toll for 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is adding 500 new officers to the Chicago Police Department.
The path to becoming an officer combines classroom lessons with real world scenarios. In less than a year of training, recruits must be prepared to serve and protect the Chicago community.
Recruits Tyesha Davis, Daniel Trakes and Edwin Lorenzana are in their ninth week of training at the Chicago Police Academy, 1300 W. Jackson Blvd.
All three come from a military background.
“It’s a lot harder,” Davis said. “With the military they teach you brute force but as a police officer you still have to be respectful to people.”
Lorenzana’s children have inspired him to help make the city a better place. He wants them to grow up in a safe community.
“I grew up on Diversey and Clyborn,” he said. “There were projects there. Things started kicking in when my mother took me out of there and brought me to a better neighborhood. That wasn’t the place to raise me.”
Trakes says he looks forward to catching the bad guys and doing something good for people.
Davis grew up in the Austin neighborhood. She said that becoming a police officer means she may have to do something she doesn’t want to do.
“I kind of feel like I’m betraying my own neighborhood,” she said. “I’ve got to someday arrest people that I consider my community member.”
As a female recruit Davis wants to be treated equally without any special treatment.
“I don’t see my myself as inferior,” she said.
The recruits’ day begins before they even walk through the doors of the academy. Every morning they raise the flag outside the front entrance of the building. During this time, they honor a fallen officer.
Recruits receive basic firearms training shortly after enrollment. They are tested on both speed and accuracy while shooting at paper targets. At close range, recruits are given six seconds to fire three rounds.
Field Training Officer Stan Williams simulates real-life high-risk traffic stops with the help of sworn officers. Everything from the chase to the time recruits place someone in handcuffs in as real as possible.
The idea behind the exercise is for recruits to understand how to work in dangerous situations with uncooperative suspects while protecting their safety.
“I’m going to teach them a lesson,” said Williams after recruits failed to get out of their squad cars fast enough.
During the next round of role-play, Williams jumped out of the suspect’s car and pretended to shoot all of the recruits through their car windshields before they could unbuckle their seatbelts.
“Williams, you mean I have to turn the sirens off, put it [car] in park, unbuckle my belt and get out?” he asked.
Williams answered his own question by saying, “Yes, I do. If he gets out, either he’s running or shooting.”
Inside the gym, recruits practice apprehending a suspect and how to handcuff one another. They are trained commands like “down sir” and “get back sir.”
Every exercise and lesson also strives to create a sense of brotherhood among the 266 current recruits.
When recruits aren’t completing field training, they study the ins and outs of the law and justice.
“The training now is better,” Sgt. Steve Witczak said. “I look at what I’ve gone through here, which was 26 years ago. There’s a lot more law and the physical training has gotten better.”
Trakes, Davis, Lorenzana and the rest of their class are expected to graduate in the spring. Afterward, they will be placed on a one-year probation while training in an assigned district.