The Omaha Police Department received criticism in March for the questionable actions of (now-former) officers during the neighbor-recorded incident at 33rd and Seward Streets.
But the department and Police Chief Todd Schmaderer also got deserved credit for quickly and thoroughly investigating the matter and moving decisively to discipline the officers the city determined had acted inappropriately — firing four. That sent the public an appropriate signal.
Now, Schmaderer is taking an important additional step that should help mend the disconnect between some residents and the department, a step with even greater potential for good.
More than 100 sergeants — the department's front-line commanders — will be sent to eight hours of manager-specific training this month in direct response to the pursuit, cellphone confiscation and scrum.
The hope is that these managers will relay what they have learned (and the importance of what they have learned) to the officers walking and driving the beats, doing a tough job on sometimes unwelcoming streets.
Criminal justice experts say better training is the gateway to better law enforcement by officers who know how to exercise proper restraint. Omaha's police are no strangers to in-service training, doing so, on average, once a year.
But this is extra training, specifically in response to an event that several hundred thousand have watched online — an event that showed people who have little interaction with police a glimpse of questionable treatment that they've only heard about, the sort that can erode hard-earned trust. The event is still being investigated for whether any officers committed a crime.
Don't misunderstand. Most Omaha officers do an excellent job upholding their oaths to serve and protect. They do so selflessly, and often at great personal cost. This is not about reaching them. It's about the outliers.
It also sends a message to the public. Requiring the training is a strong statement that the department will not tolerate such transgressions.
This training targets the street-level managers whom Deputy Police Chief Greg Gonzalez says the department relies upon to be its eyes and ears, in charge of a police force that has been trending younger after recent retirements of veteran officers.
Police are still finalizing the details of what will be taught. Here's hoping some of the discussion focuses on the rights of individuals and on policing during the YouTube era.
There will be discussions about what happened at 33rd and Seward and how to avoid repeats in the future. There will be talk about the importance of community outreach, of public perception.
Most importantly, there will be continued progress toward the vital goal of helping more Omahans feel that their police department serves them, that it represents them and that it has their safety at heart.
“Ongoing training is critical for a successful police department,” Chief Schmaderer said. “Recent events have demonstrated that first-line supervisors are essential to ensuring professionalism and quality police service, especially in an agency the size of the Omaha Police Department. I believe (we) will come out of the 33rd and Seward incident as a better department and the supervisory training is a step in the right direction.”
That it is, chief.