The Omaha City Council and Omaha Police Department requested public comment on police work, and they got an earful from 36 speakers Monday evening.
Most of those who spoke at the forum complained of physical abuse, long waits, berating comments or arrogance from police officers. But worse, they said, was the lack of an independent investigator to hear their concerns.
Speakers in the city council chambers had 5 minutes to vent. Much of the testimony was emotional. A couple of women fought back tears as they spoke of physical assaults or harassment to themselves or loved ones.
Mark Welsch, Omaha coordinator of Nebraskans for Peace, narrated a video of a controversial scuffle involving police at Creighton University Medical Center. Police officers were shown using a stun gun and baton on a man and were seen kicking him when he was pinned on the ground.
Tristan Bonn, Omaha's former police auditor, used a PowerPoint presentation comparing police practices in Omaha with those in Colorado Springs, which has more modern, respectful policing tactics, she said.
One speaker — Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network, which works to improve north Omaha — lamented that the forum happened to land on the same day that Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes formally announced his retirement.
Hayes made strides in working with neighborhoods and communities and improving police relations, Barney said.
Other comments were less favorable, but many speakers voiced support for the police. Several said most officers are good, but a few bad ones warrant the need for a police auditor or independent investigator to handle complaints. Currently a police internal affairs unit investigates.
The council will continue to gather input and will submit it to Mayor Jim Suttle, who could use the findings in budgeting decisions or in deciding whom to hire as Omaha's next police chief, councilman Chris Jerram said.