Six-year-old Tony Rouse stood at the northeast edge of the sunlit Benson Park lagoon on Sunday, fishing pole in hand, and listened to instructions on how to properly cast his lure into the dark green water.
Lesson completed, the first-grader at Belvedere Elementary cocked his arm, pivoted and did his best to fling a length of bait and fishing line a few feet offshore.
“Good,” said Capt. Kerry Neumann, Tony's tutor and the new head of Omaha's northeast police precinct.
It was an oft-repeated scene as the Police Department, the Omaha Weed & Seed Foundation and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission co-hosted the first Cops & Bobbers event at Benson Park.
Nearly 80 children, paired with Omaha officers, spent several hours angling for trout and bluegill in the autumn sunshine as part of a larger effort to teach area youths about safe pastimes while putting a human face on the city's police force.
Brenton Tibbs, 16, pulled in one of the day's first catches, a decent-size white crappie. His secret?
“I just put the worm on the hook and put it in the water,” Tibbs said.
Meanwhile, Wayne Barrow, 8, struggled to capture a wily fish that dogged him and Lt. Mark Desler, head of the city's SWAT team, most of the afternoon.
“I thought you had him there,” Desler said after the fish stole Wayne's bait and snagged his hook on a submerged tree branch.
Still, Wayne said his favorite part of Sunday was when “I almost caught a fish.”
The day represented a different role for Neumann, 39.
A 14-year veteran of the Police Department and former head of the department's high-octane gang and homicide units, Neumann was promoted to oversee Omaha's northeast precinct two months ago.
Baiting hooks and repairing tangled fishing lines with area children isn't associated with leading law enforcement in one of the city's toughest areas. One of his superiors sees it differently.
“This is his opportunity to put his stamp on his precinct,” Deputy Chief Todd Schmaderer said as he watched Neumann walk around the lagoon clutching a sack of bobbers and a foam cup of worms. “It's a perfect way to get started.”
For Neumann — an experienced hunter and fisherman — teaching the tenets of fishing CPR (“Catch, Photograph, Release”) and snapping pictures of the day's catches with his cell phone is one component of his goals for northeast Omaha.
“It's exposing the kids to the fact there's more to do in their precinct,” Neumann said. “We gotta be able to show the kids that there's more to do in the city than get in trouble.”
Larger ambitions loom. Neumann hopes to continue building on partnerships the department has built between the community's faith-based and advocacy organizations, using those to reduce violence rates over time. Neumann also hopes to make Cops & Bobbers a yearly event.
“I'd just like the fish to cooperate a little more,” he said.
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