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The Nebraska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights undertook this study to ascertain the general status of police-community relations in Omaha because of its size and minority population. It is the
first study on police-community relations by the Nebraska Advisory Committee.
In the past the Advisory Committee has conducted studies on school
desegregation and private employment in Omaha. This study was not prompted by
complaints of police brutality or abuse.
When the study began in May 1981, E.L. Stokes was Acting Chief of Police.
Late in 1981 he was replaced by Jack Swanson who remained Acting Chief of
Police until Robert Wadman became the Chief of Police on March 1, 1982.
Advisory Committee staff, assisted by members of the police-community
relations subcommittee, met with these men as well as other members of the
police division, city officials, community leaders and citizens.
about fifty individuals were interviewed. Additional data was obtained from
the police division and the city's personnel department.
After reviewing the setting, the city of Omaha and crime patterns, the
Advisory Committee examines affirmative action efforts by the police division,
including efforts to comply with the 1980 consent decree between the city,
Midwest Guardians (an organization of black police officers), and the U.S.
Department of Justice. The use of force, an important issue in
police-community relations, the community perceptions of the police division,
the past and current police-community relations programs, the complaint
process and the police disciplinary policies are discussed.
A draft report was circulated for comments in April 1982. All persons who
participated in the study were supplied with copies and encouraged to tell the
Committee what errors or omissions they found. Where appropriate, all
The City of Omaha had a population in 1980 of 311,681, 10.2 percent less than it had in 1970. It is located in the Omaha SMSA which includes Douglas
and Sarpy counties in Nebraska and Pottawattamie County in Iowa. The black
population in Omaha rose 9.9 percent in the decade, to 37,852 according to
census data (but may be higher; undercounts of minorities are not unusual).
That population is concentrated in the northeast sector of the city; less than
five percent live west of 72nd Street, less than eight percent live south of
Dodge. The center of the black population, the Center for Applied Urban Research estimates, is 34th and Pratt Streets. In fact, over half the black
population lives in 15 of the 105 tracts in the SMSA.
But the black
population has been moving in a northwesterly direction throughout the
decade. There has been a slight, but significant decline in segregation over
the decade. 1
The American Indian population increased 58.4 percent in Omaha during the decade but still remained a small portion (.06) of the total population. The
American Indian population is less concentrated than other minorities in
Omaha, in only one census tract were as many as five percent of the inhabitants identified as American Indian.2
Hispanics in Omaha account for over one-quarter of all Hispanics in
Nebraska and make up 2.3 percent of the city's population. They are
increasingly concentrated in southeast Omaha.3
The city was incorporated on Feb. 12, 1857. A city marshall appointed on
Mar. 5, 1857 became the first city law enforcement officer. Chiefs of Police were appointed beginning in 1887. From 1912 to 1957 the city had a commission
form of government, one of the commissioners serving as police commissioner.
A "home rule" city charter was adopted in 1957 and the city is now governed by a mayor and council. The Department of Public Safety administers the police, fire, permits and inspections and civil defense divisions.
Crime statistics for 1980 show that there were 38 murders, 213 rapes,
1,053 robberies, 679 aggravated assaults, 5,351 burglaries, 15,138 larcenies and 958 motor vehicle thefts reported to the police.5
The Uniform Code Statistics for Omaha show that the proportions of crimes
committed by whites and blacks were essentially the same in most categories of
crime. Blacks were somewhat more likely than whites to be arrested for
murder, rape, robbery and burglary. The proportions of white persons arrested
for death by negligence, theft, motor vehicle theft and in most other
categories of crime were larger than were the proportions of black persons
arrested for those crimes (as a proportion of all arrested). Overall, about
63 percent of arrested persons were white, about 35 percent were black and most of the rest were American Indian or Alaskan Natives. No separate figures were provided by the Omaha Police Division for Hispanic arrested persons. 6
Table 2-1 shows the size of the police forces in 16 cities that are
similar in size or crime rate to Omaha or that are in the central region.
Omaha has the third lowest ratio of population to police force. It has the
seventh highest ratio of officers to crime index. This means it has somewhat
fewer officers per 1,000 inhabitants than most cities and a somewhat higher
number of crimes are reported for each officer.
The size of the department has been a source of controversy. The city council provided funds for an additional 17 officers for the 1981 fiscal year.7 Bernie Simon, president of the Omaha city council, told staff the authorized maximum strength for the division would be 588 in Fiscal Year 1982.8
George Ernce, president of the police union, maintains that most
authorities recommend two officers per 1,000 population. If that
recommendation were followed in Omaha, he said, the police division would have