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In March 1968 black leaders again complained that an officer who fatally

shot a black youth inside a looted pawnshop was not suspended during the investigation and that police used their clubs and mace indiscriminantly against black demonstrators at a George Wallace rally.5 Later in that month a black youth was charged with criminal libel when he distributed a handbill accusing two officers of being racists and using excessive force. 6

A report

by the city's human relations board, published in June 1968, stated that "it

is a simple fact that most Negro citizens do not believe that we have equal law enforcement......7

Also in 1969 a black organization called "The Matched Sets" conducted an

extensive survey of black opinion in which it interviewed 641 black residents

of the northside and 51 white residents of the area.

The results were

reported separately for older people (361 persons) and younger people, under

the age of 19 (331 persons). Three-quarters of the younger people thought the police were not courteous. Over 60 percent had heard of incidents of police brutality and more than three-quarters believed the police used excessive and

un justified force. A little less than half thought the 1968 riots were justified. A little more than half did not think police-community relations

had improved in the past few years. Over 60 percent of the older people

interviewed thought the police were not courteous.

Over 80 percent had heard

of incidents of police brutality and 60 percent believed the police used

excessive and sometimes un justified force. About 70 percent of those

interviewed thought the 1968 riots were justified. About half thought that police-community relations had not improved in the past few years. 8 Then

Police Chief Richard Andersen asserted that out of 140,000 cases involving

police contact with citizens in a one year period, only 10 resulted in

9 complaints of police mistreatment.

In early 1970 two incidents of alleged police abuse were reported to the city's human relations board. 10

In August 1970 the bombing death of a white

police officer led Roger Sayers, then director of the city human relations

department, to urge black citizens to keep cool, despite the widely held view in the commnity that the police had increased their arrests in the area with the intention of clearing the streets.


The incident also reinforced

anti-black feeling, according to then police-community relations coordinator

Al Pattavina. Patrolman Marvin McClarty, a black officer and member of the

community relations unit, stated at the time that the police reflect the general attitude of the community towards blacks.


In 1970 the League of Women Voters of Omaha surveyed businessmen,

religious leaders, city hall personnel, minority group members, high school students, young adults, police officers and league members. (There is no

indication of how many were surveyed.) At that time two out of every three persons interviewed stated that police-community relations were "only fair or

poor or bad." All minority respondents and all but one of the high school

students, religious leaders and young adults believed relations were bad.

However, all but one of the respondents from the police division, all but one of the respondents from city hall and a majority of the businessmen respondents believed relations were good. 13

In the aftermath of a 1974 shootout between police and a black gunman,

resulting in the death of an officer and the gunman, black ministers urged

that "policemen are going to have to stop thinking of themselves as little tin

gods and the community will have to stop looking upon policemen as being their

arch enemy." One minister suggested that race relations in Omaha had become

worse than those in the south.


In its 1975 report to the mayor, the Mayor's Task Force on

Police-Community Relations, Community Concerns Subcommittee, stated:

There is a mutual lack of respect between the Omaha Police Division and significant numbers of the young, minority, poor, and in some cases elderly Omahans. This lack of respect makes positive police-community relations a sham.

After obtaining the views of many Omahans through public hearing testimony, personal interviews and telephone inquiries, the committee has concluded that this lack of respect must be dealt with promptly if the city is to have effective and humane law enforcement.

To be sure, not all lack of respect is based on documentable facts. Some of the mistrust is based on peoples' feelings. But fact or feeling, the rift between some citizens and officers is there.

Findings --Broadly described, citizens' complaints about Omaha police fall into these categories:

-- There is a tendency for officers in the largely white police force to use excessive force and/or discourtesy when they stop minority persons.

--When an incident occurs in minority and poor communities, there is invariably too much show of force by the police. This distorted presence only helps fuel existing tensions.

-- The committee found many minority and poor citizens who believe police are not there to protect them, but to protect the white community.

--A corollary point is the distinct feeling that there is a dual system of justice in Omaha. Many Omahans heard by the committee believe that police officers allow prostitution, street gambling and their own misuse of firearms to flourish in poorer neighborhoods when they wouldn't tolerate it in more affluent neighborhoods. Similarly, many people believe suspects or law violators are handled one way in affluent neighborhoods and in another, harsher way in minority and poor neighborhoods.

--When citizens do make complaints about police conduct, they
generally believe nothing will be done about alleged police
wrongdoing. They feel complaints are ignored.

--Most minority citizens are sure that most of Omaha's white police officers are racist to one degree or another. Police officers, according to our task force survey, don't believe minority and poor citizens support them. This makes it almost impossible for viable police-community relations. 15

The newspaper files do not show any reviews of community perceptions

between 1975 and 1980.

But then interest recurred. Although then Chief

Andersen did not think relations between the police and community had

deteriorated, State Senator Ernest Chambers pointed out that there had been a

number of incidents in which the police had used excessive force.

He said

that there were a few officers who were highly prejudiced and blamed then

16 Mayor Al Veys and Chief Andersen for failing to control these men. His

concerns were shared by four veteran black police officers interviewed by the World-Herald. They pointed out that as race relations became less visibly tense many of the police-community relations initiatives of the city had been

abandoned and that their absence contributed to a rise in hostility. They

thought merely by properly disciplining the few officers responsible for allegations of brutality much of the tension could be reduced.

The mayor,

chief of police and president of the Omaha police union denied there were any problems. 1


The World-Herald, commenting editorially, stated "There exists within the black community an impression that its complaints are not handled

properly within the Police Department. Whether this be true or not, the impression and suspicion become deeper with each incident.


Then deputy

police chief Joseph Friend commented that "The respect for policeman just

isn't there anymore.

It's a sign of the times. Respect for authority is

declining and the policeman is taking the brunt of it." He pointed out that

"Some people believe that policemen are brutal and they think they will be

brutalized, so they react before anything happens.


Commenting on charges made by the black community of police misconduct,

former mayor Al Veys said that "inflammatory comments about possible problems between police and blacks do nothing to help solve problems."


He was

responding to allegations by a black minister that "We have youngsters beaten,

We have mothers propositioned by white officers. We've pointed this out to

your city officials and they still refuse to believe us.


Current Community Attitudes

Current community attitudes toward the police cover a broad spectrum of

opinion, Some express fear, others ambivalence, and others support.

Wilda Stephenson stated that the "police instill an attitude of fear instead of protection."22 Robert Broom stated that a sizable portion of the black community does not trust the police, and that there are also feelings of fear and disrespect toward police officers. But Mr. Broom did point out that

23 there are parts of the black community which support the police. Joe

Ramirez, director of the Chicano Awareness Center, stated that the Hispanic

community sees the police as the enemy, although he also said he did not hear

24 of many problems with the police from the Hispanic community.

I.C. Plaza,

an Omaha resident and chairperson of the Nebraska Mexican American Commission

stated that he did not hear complaints from the Hispanic community in Omaha about police but added that the city's Hispanic population is so dispersed

25 that perhaps no pattern of problems emerges or gains attention.

One group

of community residents told staff that they were unhappy about what they

viewed as unnecessary roughness used by police to arrest teenagers for minor offenses.


Bernice Dodd, director of Omaha's Opportunity Industrial Center

(OIC) and a long time resident of Omaha, concluded that the residents of North Omaha are as afraid of the police as the police are of North Omaha. 27

The minority communities perceive the police as often hostile to them.

Typical of this view was the statement by the president of the local NAACP,

James Hart, that police officers have a preconceived fear of blacks which

causes them to overreact in some cases.

Blacks, on the other hand, fear the

28 police and expect mistreatment.

One citizen stated that police do not

believe they have to do anything about crime in the black neighborhoods because blacks do not have any political clout.


George Garnett, director

of North Omaha Community Development, Inc., stated that the community perceives the police as "potentially dangerous to their health" but also realize they need the police, explaining that good police-community relations and good police protection translate into economic development which the black community needs. He noted some improvement since March 1981 which he attributed to the new city administration.30 A black police officer stated

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that the lack of witnesses to crimes in the black community is evidence not

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