Two Chicago policemen wounded in the Back of the Yards neighborhood Tuesday night were shot with a rifle powerful enough to penetrate the officers’ body armor, police say.
Chicago police were working around the clock, saturating the streets of the city's South Side as the manhunt for those responsible for shooting the plain-clothes officers intensified Wednesday night.
“We’re all family, we’re all brothers and sisters and what you see in that greater presence is what you’d see if anyone else was hurt,” Cpt. Warren Richards said.
A rifle was one of the weapons recovered from the scene, police said.
"The use of rifles has increased the lethality in these gang conflicts, where in the past, it was fist fights or fights with objects," said Cmdr. Stephen Chung, of the 9th District. "Now it's the guns, then more recently the rifles have been introduced into our neighborhoods."
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms officials say 70 semi-automatic rifles were recovered in Chicago so far this year.
The officers were conducting a follow-up investigation to a previous incident, when two vehicles pulled up alongside them and opened fire Tuesday evening in the high-crime Back of the Yards neighborhood. One officer was shot in the arm and hip and the other in the back, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
The officers were wearing civilian clothes with vests bearing police badges and their vehicle was unmarked. Police are investigating if the shootings were targeted or if the officers were randomly attacked.
“The fact that they shot specifically at officers is outrageous,” Ald. Ray Lopez said earlier Wednesday.
Three people of interest were being questioned but they are not suspects, police say.
ATF Special Agent in Charge Celinez Nunez says law enforcement is facing a "different criminal element" with regards to gang activity, "one that has a total disregard for human life and a total disregard for law enforcement."
Both of the wounded officers are back home with their families after being released from Stroger Hospital Wednesday. Kevin Graham, the president of the local Lodge 7 police union, spoke with both officers and said one of the officers is in "a lot of pain."
Graham said he will press state legislators for laws to keep active officers safe.
"We are there to help people and we are here to protect people," Graham said. "But we are not going to be targets."
Lopez repeated his support for such legislation. Investigators say a high powered assault rifle recovered from a seized vehicle at the scene was used in the attack.
"We have to get serious about doing what it takes to keep guns out of the hands of repeat offenders," he said. "The government has to start banning assault weapons once more."