• Read more about the Omaha mayor's race at omaha.com/mayorguide.
* * * * *
The World-Herald asked Omaha's mayoral candidates for their views on several key issues facing the city.
Monday: Union contracts
Tuesday: Streamlining government
Thursday: Job creation
Do you favor adding more police officers?
In every election, everybody says we need more police officers. I think we need to assess where we are with the officers we have. Obviously if you need more officers in certain places, you try to address that. But we also have police officers who are retiring at 45. And they're going to be doing that for the next 15 or 20 years, that's not going to change. There's no incentive to stay, and that has to change. We have to negotiate that with the police union.
I want to do a performance audit first, and get a better understanding of how we're using our staffing now. But I definitely want to add or rearrange manpower so we have more people in the high-crime area. Whether that's gang units or uniformed officers or undercover or intelligence-gathering, that's yet to be determined. I'm confident I can work with Police Chief Todd Schmaderer to come up with the innovations we need.
First and foremost, we need to keep the Omaha Police Department running at its full sworn strength. They have been running short for the last four years. Right now, we are — for the first time in four years — at full sworn strength. If there is any department I would add more people to the department, it is the police. It is estimated a city of our size should have more police officers than we are currently budgeted for. I would not raise taxes to hire more officers, but we can hire more officers if we're smarter and more efficient with our budget.
Every one of my opponents is saying things like they're going to cut taxes and they're going to raise the number of police officers. Ask them how they're going to pay for it. I don't subscribe to the old criterion that this city has been using, that you have so many officers per 100,000 population. That's not how it works. We have to assess what our problems are and then begin to put together the strategies that are necessary to make the problem into a solution. That has a cost. That cost is what we're going to reflect into our budget, and then reflect into the tax picture.
The mayor should always watch and review the number of police officers in the city to ensure the safety of individuals in the city. Currently I would add to the gang unit and likely supplement the police force with private individuals, so we're not paying overtime to officers and instead we could use those officers in the high-crime area of the city. I would supplement the police force with non-sworn employees so that we could use the police officers for high-crime areas as opposed to office duty, non-criminal-related activities and non-dangerous activities. By doing so, we would have more police officers to fight crime, but it wouldn't cost the taxpayers additional dollars.
What should be done to cut crime?
This is really a collaboration issue. You have the county detention center for juveniles, the jails are run by the county and the city is the police. You have all sorts of juveniles running around that are supposed to be in school and aren't. All those interests, all those functions have to be put together into one strategic, mission-driven organization that's going to identify youth who are in trouble and get them help. Gun violence is so haphazard. It's so unpredictable, that you literally have to separate kids from the guns. But there has to be intense collaboration on that issue. It's the function of the mayor to sit down at the table and talk to those people.
You build a better bond with the neighborhoods so they start communicating better with law enforcement. But they have to trust the mayor before they start communicating. And so my process is to bring on a police auditor, to create a new civilian position called community service officers to network with the community as ambassadors between the department and community. And you begin using new technologies, like predictive analytics software, that help you keep track of crime activity, and get to the point where you can actually predict where problems will occur and get law enforcement there before they do.
Crime is a citywide issue, and it's going to need a citywide solution. It must be a three-prong approach. We have to concentrate on prevention, intervention and prosecution. To address crime, we must have law enforcement that includes local, county, state and federal. We need to work with the county, the state and the FBI.
When I've got people tell me 'Mayor, I don't feel safe in my city,' — when we are safe — I can't just tell them that. I have to take what they're telling me and come back in and do something more to add to the success story we already have. That's why you saw me formulate and put in place the two task forces on the illegal guns and on what to do with problem landlords. We begin to find the connectivity in all of that back to gangs and gun violence and so forth. We'll do a series of more task forces, and I'll do one on this whole issue of how to deal further with what the president is calling for, and that is the control of military-style weapons and these high-capacity magazines.
For our city, Omaha, Nebraska, in the middle of America, our crime rates are unacceptable, particularly with regard to gang-related crimes, gun-related crimes and drug-related crimes. This should be a primary focus of the next mayor of Omaha. Anyone who would say that the levels of crime in this city are acceptable or manageable should not be the mayor.
How would you describe Omaha's crime problem?
I think generally, it's been OK for a while. Omaha's crime rates are generally on course with the nation's crime rates, generally violent crime is down. With other kinds of crime, like domestic abuse and sexual abuse, those things are up, primarily because we now have the ability to identify and enforce. Juvenile crime is the biggest problem we have and the hardest to understand. Generally, from an enforcement perspective, we have a pretty good base upon which to get better.
It's not improving. In the last three years we haven't done anything to reduce crime. But when you have seven police chiefs in 10 years, and you have labor contracts that are so expensive you can't buy cruisers and you can't buy video equipment that works, and you don't have predictive analytic software that helps you navigate activity and you don't have the manpower and the intelligence gathering network built, you're never going to get ahead of it. Those things have to happen.
The people of Omaha feel like they're not safe. Violent crime is up. Property crimes are up, and police response times have been delayed.
We are a safe city and a good city and a great place to be. Our problem is, not everybody looks at that every day. The citizens look only at what they see in their own televisions, their own Facebook pages. So between social media and talk radio and the news media, they only see this. And they have a concern. That's what I keep hearing.
The most serious problem in the City of Omaha is in the northeastern part of the city with regard to gang violence, illegal gun use and drug-related crimes. The above are symptoms of social problems in the northeastern part of the city, including fatherlessness and children raising children. The mayor needs to work with the community, the entire community, to organize people, money and programs, which will remedy the social problems that have plagued the northeast part of the city for too long.