CHICAGO – The shooting of two plainclothes officers with a high-powered rifle this week was a chilling reminder of something Chicago police have long said: They are outgunned by the city's gangs.
Now, four aldermen who are all former Chicago police officers are pushing to get as many officers trained in using high-powered long guns as quickly as possible to protect themselves from gang members who are favoring these weapons more and more.
"We are now seeing a big push on the street of gang members carrying semi-automatic weapons and high-powered assault rifles and using them in the commission of crimes, shooting police officers and one another as well," Alderman Christopher Taliaferro said.
This is particularly true, police say, in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the city's South Side, where the two officers were shot and wounded Tuesday. Occupants in two vehicles opened fire on the officers who were sitting in an unmarked vehicle. No arrests have been made.
"We have been investigating increased sightings or use of AR-15s, or assault rifles, in the conflict between two rival gangs in that area," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
One officer was shot in the arm and hip and the other in the back. They have been released from the hospital.
They were conducting a follow-up investigation to a previous incident and were wearing civilian clothes with vests bearing police badges.
More than a dozen bullets were recovered from the scene of Tuesday's shooting.
The aldermen say Chicago officers are now allowed to carry semi-automatic long guns if they are trained and certified, but there aren't enough instructors.
"My brother is a Chicago police officer, he was trained (to use these weapons) in the Marines and it still took him 2 ½ years to get certified," Alderman Anthony Napolitano said. "His partner did two tours of duty in Iraq, he was a colonel, and he's been waiting at least a year to get certified."
Under the plan that Taliaferro, Napolitano, Edward Burke and Willie Cochran expect to pitch to the rest of the City Council soon, the city would authorize money to hire retired Chicago police officers or retired federal agents who are certified to give the necessary training.
Napolitano said it is unclear how much money the effort will take. He said he believes there may be close to 1,000 officers who have put in for the training and are just waiting for their turn.
But he suspects there are many more who have not done so because the wait is so long.
"I guarantee you that if we do this, the number (of officers who put in for training and certification) will double if not triple," he said.