Project KNOSE, Robert Wagner hope to deter gun violence

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May 6th, 2015

Project KNOSE members prep for a night of patrolling. (Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

Project KNOSE members prep for a night of patrolling. (Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

Project KNOSE, which stands for Keeping North Omaha Safe for Everyone, is a grassroots community watch of sorts. They drive around some of the most violent neighborhoods in North Omaha hoping to be a deterrent to more violence in the area. KVNO’s Brandon McDermott spent two nights this week riding along with Project KNOSE organizer Robert Wagner and filed this report.


Project KNOSE started in 2013 by Robert Wagner as a way to help deter criminals from violence and as a way to help ease mistrust of the police in North Omaha.

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Doug Paterson, professor in the Theater Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is a member of KNOSE. Project KNOSE started a campaign called ‘No Murders in May’, designed to keep gun violence off the streets.

“Our hope is going out the driving streets and neighborhoods,” Paterson said. “We are not trying to stop anything or trying to get out and do anything, we can if that seems to be a legitimate thing but anything involved with gunshots, we get in the car and leave.”

Project KNOSE members wear safety vests and have Project KNOSE markers on their vehicles clearly in view so everyone knows who they are. They will contact the police if things get out of hand. Patterson said it’s a way to help those who feel marginalized or left out, know there is someone there if something were to happen.

Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

“It’s a fairly mild activity, every now and then it gets intense,” Paterson said. “Robert really wanted to go down to spend some time at certain places and certain bars. The thing is, these are wonderful people, they are not thugs, they are not criminals – they are wonderful people trying to make a decent life.”

An incident in May of 2011 where Robert Wagner was arrested at Creighton University Hospital led to the group’s formation. Video released after the incident showed nine Omaha police officers surrounding a hand-cuffed Wagner, one officer with his knee in Wagner’s back, while others kicked and punched him.

Wagner later sued the city of Omaha for his arrest. He and the city reached an agreement last year, in his favor, regarding the suit. It was this incident along with the shooting death of his cousin that pushed him to start a group focused on helping North Omaha.

I had the chance to ride along with KNOSE on a series of nightly patrols.

It’s my first night out with the group. Everyone is being assigned partners to go with.

Photo Courtesy Robert Wagner)

(Photo Courtesy Robert Wagner)

Wagner said many people confuse what Project KNOSE is trying to do. Some think they are crime fighters, Wagner said that isn’t the case.

“It’s not that we don’t want people to party, have fun and hang out, it’s the violence,” Wagner said. “That’s what has to stop.”

Wagner said Project KNOSE does more than patrol streets; they actively raise money for funeral expenses, host silent auctions, have toy giveaways all for the families of shooting victims. Wagner also helps in the grieving process, sitting on the couches of victim’s families in the days following murders.

“Until you really see the streets, how they operate and you see the toll it takes on the victims’ family members, you will never understand it,” Wagner said.

Wagner knows the streets of North Omaha, he names the different gangs of areas as we pass the corresponding neighborhoods. We pass the area where a young man died two summers ago.

“The guy that was killed right here on this door step, his name was Montrell Wiseman, they called him ‘Moneyman,’” Wagner said. “That was a situation where he was just visiting his family and the person that shot him told the prosecutors, we were just looking for someone in red to shoot. So they figured, okay, it’s down here in the blood neighborhood, he had on red, so the killed him…sixteen years old.”

(Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

(Photo Courtesy Brandon McDermott)

Wagner said driving around neighborhoods, being seen by the public, is a deterrent to potential criminals. He hopes to get more Omaha residents interested in volunteering.

“He is not going to test his luck is he sees four vehicles,” Wagner said. “So just think if there were 10 vehicles, imagine that. Imagine if we could really split into the four corners of this city at once, we’d be looping each other all night.”

During patrol we approached a man who was heavily intoxicated walking in the middle of the street. Wagner slowed the vehicle to ask the man if there was something he could do.

It turned out the man knew Wagner’s son, Wagner gave him $10 to get some food and sober up.

The Omaha Police Department is pretty neutral to Project KNOSE. Officer Michael Pecha said this is because Project KNOSE is not registered as a citizen’s patrol formally. Wagner said that is what keeps the department from officially recognizing them. But Pecha said OPD welcomes Project KNOSE’s assistance.

“Our officers can’t be everywhere at all times,” Officer Pecha said. “We definitely appreciate when groups like this or individual citizens or really anyone takes initiative to better their community.”

Officer Pecha said groups like Project KNOSE add eyes and ears out there when police officers are unable to be in those locations.

“Anybody who can relay information to the police department about with is going on in their neighborhood,” Officer Pecha said. “It definitely helps us get an idea of what’s going on and where we may need to allocate our resources.”

Officer Pecha said ‘however we can get information about crimes, we will take it.’

Wagner said Project KNOSE’s relationship with OPD is pleasant and respectful.

“Most the time they tell you to leave or to get back, but officers have come up to me and asked, ‘how do you pronounce that’ or ‘what does this stand for?’ but for the most part there has never been anything disrespectful.”

We stopped at My Place Lounge on 24th and Lake, X Lounge on Saddle Creek and Soulful Lounge on 16th Street Friday night. Everywhere we went people showed signs of approval to Project KNOSE and their members. When it comes to violence in the bars and clubs, Wagner said the vibe within them is essential to understanding what may happen outside of it. He said he has seen this firsthand as a member of Project KNOSE.

“When the crowd leaves and everyone goes to their car, it’s going to be okay,” Wagner said. “But when people are standing around and they are not leaving, something happened inside and they are all waiting for somebody. Every time, it never fails.”

Between 23rd and 50th as well as Fort and Parker Streets in Omaha, an area of about five square miles, has seen 10 victims of shootings in Omaha in the first 21 weeks of 2015. For perspective, only five other victims of shootings have occurred in the rest of the city thus far in 2015. Wagner said this area is Omaha’s most violent and misunderstood area.

During my two ride-alongs the streets were relatively quiet, Wagner often stopped at some of the more violent intersections of the city to show us how silent and peaceful it usually is.

Omaha went the entire month of April without any gun related deaths. However, early Tuesday May 5th, around 4:30 am, a shooting near 28th and Spencer streets was reported to Police. OPD is investigating a double homicide.

The victims were announced as Lafayette Antonio Reed, 27, and Diondre Mitchell, 27, both from Omaha. This raises the tally of victims of gun violence in Omaha to 15 in 2015.

Wagner posted on his Facebook following the shooting: To the one’s that take time to try to make this city safer, please do not get discouraged. If anything it should make us feel a greater need to have a stronger, bigger presence.”


 

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