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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
--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.
chief of police and president of the Omaha police union denied there were any
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.
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."19
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."
responding to allegations by a black minister that "We have yougsters beaten,
we have mothers propositioned by white officers. We've pointed this out to your city officials and they still refuse to believe us.121
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 that perhaps no pattern of problems emerges or gains attention.
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. 26
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.
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 police and expect mistreatment. 28
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.29 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
30 attributed to the new city administration. A black police officer stated that the lack of witnesses to crimes in the black community is evidence not
that there are no witnesses but that people do not know or trust police and
therefore do not come forward.
Luke Nichols, a member of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance,
stated that police brutality was never a serious problem, rather the problem
is unequal treatment such as stopping only black citizens for routine traffic
checks or not taking crime in the black community seriously. He stated that
the community wants the "after hours joints," gambling and drug dealing out of
the community but they also want the police to respect everyone's rights when
32 they come into the community.
Sonny Foster, a member of the Board of Directors of Urban League, stated
that he believes the black community is more supportive of the police than any
other segment of Omaha. Mr. Foster asserted that black citizens want crime
out of their neighborhoods but they also want their constitutional rights
Similar sentiments were expressed by Wayne Tyndall, Director
of the American Indian Center of Omaha. Mr. Tyndall said he realized that in
encounters with the police American Indians were not entirely blameless, but
even if there is cause for arrest, they should be treated fairly and not
Many in the community expressed support for the police. Rita Garcia of the Indian-Chicano Health Center reported her clients had not complained about
35 the police and that she thought bilingual services were adequate. Mr.
Plaza said he thought the Hispanic community sees the police as friendly and helpful and that bilingual services are adequate.36 Mr. Ramirez, however,
was of the opinion that language problems do occur that cause simple
situations, like issuing a traffic ticket, to escalate into serious
Debbie Brockman, coordinator of a coalition of neighborhood
associations called IMPACT, told staff that on the whole people are
sympathetic to the police and understand what they face on the street.
believes the community wants more personal contact and "humanism" from the
Carl Christian of the Bedford Place Neighborhood Council told
staff that members of the neighborhood association are satisfied so long as they are treated with respect.39 Elbert Ross of the Binney-West-Spencer
Neighborhood Association told staff he was brought up at a time when "you knew
if you did wrong you would go to jail." He believes people should realize law enforcement officers have a job to do. 40
Several community leaders agreed with George Garnett who said the new
public safety director, Joe Friend, gave the impression of being responsive
and accessible and was sensitive to the issues involved in police-community relations. 41
Two people, James Hart of the NAACP and Debbie Brockman, coordinator of IMPACT, noted that the new public safety director is trying to improve police-community relations by communication with the black
community--attending community meetings and making public statements in
42 support of change. Several citizens expressed the opinion that the
current city administration appeared to be more concerned about
police-community relations than others in the past.
Many interviewed said the police chief and other city officials set the
tone for the police division when dealing with citizens, that in effect the
attitude of the officer on the street reflects the attitude of their
Robert Broom commented that a new chief will have to make
clear that racial slurs, verbal abuse, excessive force and similar tactics
will not be tolerated and that offending officers will be disciplined.45 Alvin Goodwin, Jr., of the Omaha Economic Development Corporation and Mary
Jane Harvey, Associate Executive of the Presbytery of Missouri River Valley, expressed similar sentiments.
Commenting on the current status of relations from the point of view of
the police, Acting Chief Jack Swanson said the number one goal of the division