A dozen north Omaha pastors stood in support of Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and the disciplinary measures he took Friday in connection with a controversial arrest near 33rd and Seward Streets.
Pastor Tony Sanders of Koinonia House of Worship, who served as a spokesman for the group, said Schmaderer had met with the pastors before and after the March 21 incident.
Sanders said the pastors were “very pleased” with the investigation and with the actions Schmaderer took Friday.
The chief announced the firing of four officers in connection with the incident on Seward Street. Three additional officers were placed on leave, and an eighth officer was reassigned.
The pastors, Sanders said, “have been rather impressed” with the chief's transparency and with how forthcoming he has been within the bounds of the information he could share. And he acted in “record time.”
“Not only did Chief Schmaderer give us his word, he stuck to his word ... by ensuring that justice was served and a thorough investigation has been conducted. We understand his actions are both firm and fair, and we want to show our support for him,” Sanders said at Pleasant Green Baptist Church, 2002 Willis Ave.
Sanders said the pastors, after discussions with Schmaderer and his command staff and among themselves, have come up with a number of steps to help alleviate crime in the city and to foster better relations between the African-American community and the Omaha Police Department.
“Though we may not have voiced our concerns, we are very much concerned about the activities that occurred,” he said. “We are very much concerned about the safety of our parishioners and the city overall.”
Those steps include:
» Placing police complaint forms in many churches to make it more convenient for citizens to file them, particularly those who may be reluctant to go to the police station to do so. Pastors also will mediate for citizens and make sure there is follow-through on complaints.
» Supporting and promoting Crime Stoppers by making posters and fliers available to remind people how to report tips. If people feel more comfortable coming to them first, pastors would pass tips to police themselves.
» Hosting seminars to educate community members about the best way to interact with police. The seminars also would focus on making sure citizens know their legal rights.
» Facilitating events throughout the year at which police officers can interact with community members.
Sanders noted that Schmaderer brought his entire command staff to a meeting that preceded the March 21 incident. He said the chief's intent was not only to introduce himself and his staff, but also to develop an ongoing partnership to improve the safety of the community.
The pastors also indicated that they would support reinstituting a police auditor or some other oversight system.
Sanders said Schmaderer told them he was open to some sort of oversight. He said the police chief told them, “When you're policing the right way, there's nothing to hide.”
Sanders said some in the community have concerns that Schmaderer's decisions will be overturned through the arbitration process, as happened with two officers who were fired in the Robert A. Wagner case in 2011. Wagner attended Friday's press conference.
Pastor Gregory Ashley noted that such matters are beyond Schmaderer's control. A measure pending in the Nebraska Legislature would lift some of the secrecy involved in disciplinary cases against police.
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha has said he introduced Legislative Bill 541 in response to the reinstatement of the two officers in the Wagner case.
Chambers said he has concerns because, under the union contract, an arbitrator's decision cannot be appealed.
“He's shown us some transparency,” Ashley said of Schmaderer. “He's done something unprecedented in this city. That's what he's done today.”
He emphasized that the clergy will be working, too.
“We as a community now need to support him in his efforts to make the community safe, the entire community safe.”
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