The writer is chief of the Omaha Police Department.
As I watched George Floyd’s death unfold on video, I remember feeling horrified and thought to myself there must be something inherently evil in former officer Derek Chauvin. He may wear a badge, but he is NOT a police officer. As chief of police in a city comparable in size to Minneapolis, I was also disheartened by the inaction of the other three officers who were indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s well-being. The failure of the other officers to intervene is astounding and is a legitimate cause for concern.
Unanimously, the Senior Command of the Omaha Police Department instantly denounced the action of those officers, and we surmised there would be damage done to police-community relationships, relationships that we cherish here in Omaha. Our police-community partnerships have taken Omaha from epidemic level shootings just 10 years ago to under 100 per year more recently, and have produced the lowest three-year homicide average in our city’s modern history.
Fast forward a week, and the actions and inactions of those Minneapolis officers became the tipping point that understandably sent shock waves throughout our country and were painfully experienced here in Omaha.
As a city, we should be proud of the many peaceful protests that took place in Omaha, some with more than 1,000 people in attendance. Your voices have been heard and your message is paramount to us making our city better for all Omaha citizens. However, that important message was obscured when the protests turned violent and plunged into civil unrest. It is hard for anyone to hear the intended message when a citizen dies, many are injured, buildings are destroyed and property is damaged. The mission of the Omaha Police Department is to respond to these events professionally and in a way that minimizes unfortunate outcomes; part of our professionalism is a thorough review of the events to ensure accountability.
Now we as a community must continue to build on the progress of the last few years. The aftermath of the protests nationwide and in Omaha is a powerful impetus for us to take another meaningful step forward. The city’s historic drops in shootings and homicides are the product of a healthy partnership between OPD and our community. Recently, to enhance our service to the community, OPD has:
- Fully deployed officer-worn body cameras.
- Deployed less-lethal Tasers.
- Implemented new approaches on how to respond to those in a mental crisis.
- Provided our officers advanced training in cultural awareness, implicit bias training, de-escalation and tactics.
The net effect of these efforts can be seen in the number of officer-involved shootings that were reduced to one last year, and zero so far this year, a level that is well below other cities our size.
As a measure of OPD’s continued commitment to the citizens we serve, the deputy chiefs and myself have already met to evaluate where we are as a department based on the messages that have been articulated in the more productive protests. We will continue to implement policy changes within the department that further our duty to all of the citizens we serve, and we will conduct departmentwide in-service training that further enhances the services we provide to the city of Omaha.
I’m very proud of the Omaha Police Department and the progress we have made in our city. I am also proud of the dedication of our officers as they stepped up to protect the city under very difficult circumstances while working 12 hours per day without the option to take days off. Without their continued dedication and commitment, our city would have fared much worse in terms of both human and property costs based on what has been experienced by other cities nationally.
To our community partners, the Omaha Police Department is committed to our city and will continue to look and listen for opportunities to raise the bar. We realize it can’t be done without you. Omaha has a tremendous community, and we all want to be a part of it together.