SOUTH AUSTIN — You might be seeing more police officers on bikes in the coming weeks, and not just Downtown along the Magnificent Mile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday.
Following through on a 2015 budget initiative to double the number of officers on bicycles, the mayor said 400 would now be deployed throughout the city.
At a news conference at the Austin District station, Emanuel said the expansion "moved it out of Michigan Avenue solely and into the communities." He called it "a different type of tactic that allows us to further our community policing."
Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said it was in response to public demand.
"They want to see officers out of the vehicles," McCarthy said. "There's more interaction with the community."
According to mayoral spokesman Adam Collins, it's consistent with the department's "community policing philosophy."
Asked if it was meant to target troubled communities, whether in Austin or Englewood or even Lakeview, where recent robberies have constituted a crime wave, Collins said, "It's really neighborhoods all across the city."
He called it a "tactic" officers and district commanders can draw on, adding, "It's a tool that, if it's good enough for Downtown, it's good enough for the rest of the city."
"We're able to respond and cut through traffic a lot faster than when you're in a car," said Officer Leonard Shoshi. "If someone runs on us, they'll get tired a lot faster than us."
Shoshi pointed out the now-uniform police bikes are equipped with flashing lights and sirens.
The city plans to roll out the rest of its 400 "specially equipped bicycles" for Chicago Police officers by summer's end, according to the mayor's office.
More than half the new bikes already hit the streets earlier this summer, Emanuel spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said.
This is not the first time Emanuel has turned to increased bike patrols as a crime-fighting tool. Going back to spring 2014, the city has announced multiple initiatives to put more police officers on bikes. City officials say bikes make officers more visible and mobile, and McCarthy has credited them for dipping crime rates in more violent areas of the city.
Emanuel added $2 million to his last budget to double the number of bike patrol officers on the South and West sides, Huffman said.
McCarthy said all new police recruits are now being trained in bike patrol.
The police chief added that the city is weighing a new police exam, perhaps moving to "ongoing tests," as it also tries to recruit more minority officers.
"We're burning through that list" of candidates who passed the most recent exam, McCarthy added. "We're gonna need to give a test in the very near future. We gotta keep that list fresh."
McCarthy said they're "looking to recruit from a variety of communities across the city," because in previous outreach efforts among women and minorities "we didn't get the numbers coming in that we wanted."
McCarthy dismissed the suggestion that a psychological test was limiting the number of minority recruits.
"That's absurd," he added. "You have to give psychological exams to people you are going to give guns to."
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