City presents united front against violence

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December 13th, 2011

Omaha, NE – The city, Omaha Police Department and community groups presented a united front at OPD headquarters today. The message: let’s work together to tackle violence.

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The Mayor’s office called a press conference to announce a gun amnesty day that’s planned for Saturday. After a spate of recent shootings, Suttle said it’s essential for the city to work together to get guns off the streets. Similar events, he said, have led to 700 guns being removed this year. Flanked by Police Chief Alex Hayes, captains from each precinct, Councilman Ben Gray and community leaders, Suttle called on the community to step up and help.

Police Chief Alex Hayes says OPD has become a more transparent agency over the past few years, in order to engage the community. (Photo courtesy NET News)

“They need the help of each and every citizen who has information about acts of violence,” he said, “in order to create a safer environment for everyone.”

Chief Hayes said his department has been working to gain the community’s trust and assistance by becoming a more transparent agency.

“We’re basically … a more open agency than we have been in the past,” Hayes said. “Police agencies tend to keep things close to the chest. One of the things that we wanted to make clear is we’re willing to work with the community hand in hand, and address what their problems are, but look at them together, not just from the police perspective.”

The number of homicides in the city is at 35 this year, down from a peak of 44 in 2008. *Update: The number of homicides in Omaha this year is now 36. Lynell L. Green, 30, was shot and killed Tuesday night. Police discovered him in his home, where he died.

Willie Barney is the president of the Empowerment Network, which has been working behind the scenes for the past four years to create partnerships across the city. (Photo courtesy NET News)

According to the Omaha Police Department, the official number of homicides will rise to 41 this year, after accounting for five additional victims. Those include the three members of the Szczepanik family, who were discovered dead in 2011, but may have died earlier; two other victims who were critically injured in previous years, but died this year, and one man, David Cermak, who was killed in an officer-involved shooting.

Chief Hayes said OPD’s efforts to engage the community has helped bring that number down. But, he said, there’s still a lot of work to do. Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network, said the numbers represent a 20 percent decline, and are comparable to well-touted successes in cities like Newark and Cincinnati. But in Omaha, he said, the story is not getting out.

Councilman Ben Gray said there are several proposals in the works at city hall to help create jobs in areas of chronic unemployment. One proposal, he said, involves using federal Community Development Block Grants as a temporary measure. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

“I think overall that story of how things are working is not getting out into the larger community,” Barney said. “So people kind of lose hope and think nothing can be done.”

“But we can show … neighborhood after neighborhood, where when neighborhood residents do get engaged, and law enforcement does support those initiatives, faith community gets involved, schools, we can see measurable results in each of those areas.”

Barney joined a chorus of voices at the conference, who said the biggest challenge to reduce crime rates is creating jobs. He said, over the past four years, his group has helped create a couple hundred jobs each summer for young people in impoverished areas of North Omaha. But, he said, those need to turn into year-round employment.

Councilman Ben Gray, who represents that district, agreed. “Number one is jobs,” Gray said. “And we’re going to do whatever it takes to increase our job pool. We talk about it, and we talk about it in the scheme of economic development, and a number of other things, but it’s not really focused on. What we have to do now is focus on it, and make it a priority, and make it a reality, no matter how long it takes.”

The Omaha Police Department will accept unwanted or illegal guns and ammunition, no questions asked, at the Civic Auditorium Saturday from 10am to 2pm.

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