When he took the job last summer, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer listed improving police-community relations and making sure his department had the public's trust as his key goals.
He placed “paramount importance” on professionalism, saying he and his top commanders were “going to do everything in our power ... to ensure that takes place.”
And he noted that, “We know how to investigate, we know how to look for trends, and we know how to police ourselves.”
With word and deed, the chief has shown that he means what he said.
Schmaderer fired four police officers, including a sergeant, over the disturbing March 21 incident near 33rd and Seward Streets that was recorded by a neighbor's video camera. Three other officers were placed on administrative leave, and an eighth was reassigned from normal duties.
The chief said he knew that “regardless of my findings, public trust has been damaged, and I needed to take steps to restore that public trust.”
The incident, which has been viewed more than 330,000 times on the Internet, has raised many questions. Schmaderer cited several of them at his Friday press conference, including whether the level of force was justified and whether the pursuit of the second man — who also videotaped the events — was proper.
Because of labor contract provisions on personnel matters — and the continuing investigation — Schmaderer said he couldn't give specific answers to some questions. But it is clear that the chief has taken this incident seriously and has been conducting a thorough, responsible examination of what took place.
In addition to the department's internal inquiry, Schmaderer wisely asked the FBI to help review the inquiry. He consulted with the Douglas County Attorney's Office, the city prosecutor's office and the city legal department. He has shown that the police department brass understand the need for public accountability. “I recognize the integrity of this investigation is of extreme importance to the community.”
Schmaderer's prompt and public response certainly should help restore some public confidence, especially in north Omaha, where it has eroded but remains vital in the efforts of authorities and citizens to combat gangs and gun crime.
“The Omaha Police Department has tremendous, dedicated professionals,” the chief said. “Many of the police actions that took place that day are in violation of our policies and do not represent how I want our officers to carry themselves.”
By all accounts, Schmaderer — the son of a 35-year Omaha Police veteran — was a good street cop. As chief, he wants Omahans to know their police department is full of good cops.
His determined investigation and his openness in discussing it are strong steps in that direction.