After a record number of Omaha homicides in 2015, the Police Department found some good news in its other end-of-year crime numbers.

In all categories except homicides, fewer crimes were reported in 2015 than 2014, according to the department. And it reports that more of those crimes were solved.

Police attribute the drop in property crimes to a reorganization in the investigations unit that allows detectives to specialize in one type of crime.

Community leaders say the reduction in violent crime, particularly shootings, shows that groups such as the Empowerment Network are making a difference when it comes to intervention.

Police officials caution that there’s not enough data to make sweeping conclusions, considering that the reorganization happened in March 2015.

“We haven’t won any war,” said Sgt. Pam Volk, who investigates motor vehicle thefts. “We’re winning some battles.”

Still, police say they hope Omahans are happy with the Police Department.

“We want people to feel safe at their homes and in their neighborhood and out shopping,” said Lt. Catherine Milone.

The end-of-year numbers confirm what Police Chief Todd Schmaderer has said when he speaks about the city’s record 50 killings last year: Fewer people are getting shot, but more are dying.

Of the crimes that each police department across the country must report to the FBI, Omaha is at least at a 10-year low in four categories: forcible rape (174 crimes reported), robbery (655), burglary (2,160) and larceny, which includes most types of thefts (11,558).

Omaha also is at a four-year low for aggravated assault (1,452 reports) and a five-year low for motor vehicle theft (2,543).

Capt. Kerry Neumann, who oversees the criminal investigations bureau, said detectives are particularly proud of the clearance rate, or how many crimes were solved.

Omaha’s clearance rate was higher than the national average for all categories except aggravated assaults. For forcible rapes and robberies, the clearance rate is nearly 20 percentage points higher than the U.S. average.

Rapes were cleared 59 percent of the time compared with 39 percent nationally. The robbery clearance rate was 47 percent, compared with 30 percent around the country.

Michael Maltz, a criminologist who has studied crime data and is a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said it’s common to see a change in crime statistics after a department shifts reporting systems or has turnover in the staff who track numbers — both of which happened at the Omaha Police Department last year.

But David VanDyke, an independent Omaha Police Department consultant who built its new reporting system, said he spent nine months tracking the new system and the old system. The new system, which is computerized, produced the same statistics as the old one.

Omaha police officials instead point to their detective reorganization as the reason for the drop in numbers.

Before March, detectives were divided into two geographic sections, north and south.

Some crimes, most notably homicides, were investigated by specialized detectives. But, otherwise, detectives investigated a crime based on where it was committed.

Now, detectives are organized by type of crime.

On top of the homicide unit, detectives can work with special victims — children or victims of sexual assault — robberies, burglaries or auto thefts.

Early indications show that it’s successful, Neumann said, though he wants to reserve judgment.

Neumann said he had expected a better clearance rate but was pleasantly surprised by the early decrease in reported property crimes.

He said that when a detective is responsible for investigating violent crimes and property crimes, the property crimes fall naturally to the bottom of the priority list.

Milone, the lieutenant, said she’s been pleased with the camaraderie and even healthy rivalry between detectives.

“It’s so nice to see and watch unfold the cohesiveness of the detectives,” she said.

Volk said they’ve sent people to jail who admitted to committing hundreds of crimes — getting those repeat offenders off the streets for a few years, at least.

On the violent crimes side, Neumann pointed to a departmentwide focus on targeting the most prolific offenders, though that did not start in 2015.

City Council President Ben Gray, who represents much of northeast Omaha, and former Police Chief Thomas Warren, who now runs the Urban League of Nebraska, said some of the credit lies with the community. In particular, they cited weekly Omaha 360 meetings, where police and community groups share what they’re seeing.

“What is going on in Omaha is unique,” Warren said. “That platform really provides an opportunity for open dialogue; and more importantly, it builds confidence and trust in the Police Department.”

Warren and Gray also pointed to efforts to intervene before a person becomes a criminal.

Gray noted the Step-Up program, which provides job training and jobs to at-risk youths.

“We’re doing a reasonably good job in managing crime and getting it down,” said Gray, chairman of the council’s public safety committee.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1084, roseann.moring@owh.com

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