The author is a retired veteran of the FBI and served as the special agent in charge of multiple FBI field offices around the U.S., including the Omaha field office, which covers Nebraska and Iowa.
I am reeling over the events of the past few weeks. These extraordinary times are shining a spotlight on many issues of inequality and on the ways that rights and opportunity are unevenly distributed across our society.
We must do more to address entrenched racism, and I support those who are sincerely working to highlight and address this issue. However, some are heading down a dangerous path. Messages demonizing all police and law enforcement are increasing. We hear calls to “defund” or “dismantle” police agencies, and assertions that police officers are intrinsically racist.
This broad-brush vilification of law enforcement is dangerous and demonstrably, factually false. The danger has become tragically apparent: Violent attacks on police officers around the country over the past several weeks have resulted in serious injury to the officers. The incendiary rhetoric against “police” is clearly inciting violence.
I am not questioning the legitimacy of anger surrounding the death of George Floyd, his neck pinned under a police officer’s knee, for which there is no excuse. Countless law enforcement professionals have expressed outrage, including many Omaha-area law enforcement agency heads. What happened to George Floyd was wrong, but is not normal for the vast majority of the policing profession. There is clearly entrenched racism and bias in our society, resulting in less opportunity and fewer resources for black communities, leading to increased frustration and anger.
A U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics publication titled “Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008” reflects that blacks accounted for 52.5% of all homicide offenders during that period, with whites accounting for 45.3% and “other,” 2.2%. The per-capita offending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost eight times higher than whites (4.5 per 100,000), and the victim rate six times higher. Most homicides were intra-racial, with 84% of white victims killed by whites and 93% of black victims killed by blacks.
The higher rates of violent crime in black communities neither mean that blacks are inherently more prone to criminal behavior nor that police are inherently biased. Higher rates of violent crime do result in more law enforcement interactions.
The Washington Post has been collecting data related to fatalities resulting from police use of deadly force since 2015. The numbers don’t support the “racist cop” narrative. For example, in 2019, police killed 19 unarmed white people (out of a total of 370 killed) and nine unarmed black people (out of 235 killed). This means 5.1% of white people killed by police were unarmed, compared with 3.8% of black people killed by police. The definition of “unarmed” includes those who violently struggle, attack or attempt to disarm the involved law enforcement officer as long they do not have a weapon.
This data shows that black people are not being slain by police at a disproportional rate.
Recognizing this fact is all the more important in Omaha, where we have a very professional police department. I had the privilege of working with many law enforcement agencies across our country during my 30-year federal law enforcement career, ranging from large metropolitan and state police agencies to smaller city and county police agencies.
The Omaha Police Department has always been among the most professional agencies with which I have worked. The leadership of OPD is consistently among the best. In the last two decades, two Omaha police chiefs, Thomas Warren and Alex Hayes, were black officers and well-respected leaders who made significant contributions toward improving and enhancing the professionalism of the department.
Current Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer is another outstanding, highly respected leader. Chief Schmaderer elevated the professionalism of the OPD and its engagement with the black community. He also increased police accountability and has not hesitated to hold officers accountable when misconduct occurs. He worked to acquire and implement use of body cameras (despite the lack of city funding) by attaining donations from charitable organizations and the public. He implemented enhanced training in de-escalation techniques and in engaging individuals in psychological crisis.
Should the OPD improve even more? Absolutely yes. However, we should not denigrate or ignore the many improvements that have been made over the past decades.
Yes, there are bad police officers who should be held accountable. However, those bad officers represent a very small and aberrant portion of the approximately 800,000 U.S. sworn law enforcement officials. And, yes, there is entrenched bias and racism in our society. We must listen deeply to those who have suffered from prejudice and bias, and commit to meaningful action toward positive change. However, those promoting the false narratives that police bias is the primary cause of the suffering in the black community and police are intrinsically racist are not only wrong, but are endangering the community and society.