Approved city budget puts more cops on the street

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August 24th, 2011

Omaha, NE- Things seem to be cooling down in City Hall for now as Omaha council members unanimously passed Mayor Jim Suttle’s 2012 budget Tuesday, which will now add more police officers. But all does not seem to be well in the Mayor’s office when it comes to Fire Union contract negotiations.

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Yesterday afternoon, City Hall was noticeably less contentious than it has been the last two weeks. First on the agenda was Mayor Jim Suttle’s proposed 2012 budget and an amendment that would fund a 2012 police officer recruit class at a cost of about $348,000. The amendment was proposed by Councilman Festersen. Festersen cited encounters he had with police officers in his district as his motivation.

“Every time I asked different officers “What’s your single most important need right now?” and every person said”Man power. We’re spread thin”,” said Festersen.

The approved amendment makes way for a 2012 recruitment class that would put 15 to 24 officers on the streets. (Photo credit Omaha Police Department)

Councilwoman Jean Stothert said, “I think that if you ask anyone in Omaha to prioritize what their concerns are with the city they would say right now number one—get the budget under control; and they would say number two—crime. And we need to work on crime and the only way we’re going to address this is to put officers on the street.”

Comments from other council members were similar to Stothert’s and were generally supportive of increasing the police force to tackle crime. But some wanted to know the opinion of Mayor Suttle. City Finance
Director Pam Spaccarotella spoke on behalf of the administration. “I think that this administration is committed to maintaining the police officers at 780, and so at this particular time I don’t think the administration would support this amendment, but I also don’t think this administration would veto it either.”

780 officers, according to Councilman Garry Gernandt and Ben Gray, are not enough. Gray would like to see more added to the class.

“Fifteen, quite frankly, is not enough in my judgment, but you know, I’m willing to support this initial effort,” said Gray.

Councilman Franklin Thompson asked Deputy Chief David Baker how he and the Police Department would prefer the city council vote on the amendment.

“We understand that last year we had our budget cut about $6 million by the council here and the economic realities that forced that,” said Chief Baker. “… but, we could certainly do more with more officers, nevertheless, the economics that drive the decisions that have to be made today by the council and by the mayor we do understand, and we will prioritize and manage within the budget that we’re given.”
That flexible attitude drew praise from the council about the Omaha Police Department.

The amendment and the 2012 budget passed unanimously.

Soon after, the Mayor’s office released a statement calling the budget a “responsible and strategic one” that responds “to the public’s need for services.”

But the council’s praise for the Omaha Police Department and the Police Union seemed to point out residual tensions between the council and the Omaha Fire Union.

After praising the Omaha Police Union, Councilman Thompson pointedly said, “The Union did not bully any of us…there were no strong arm tactics, no hate emails, no pressuring, no leveraging.”

A statement released by the Mayor’s office yesterday afternoon did acknowledge a breakdown in negotiations between the Omaha Labor Negotiating Team and the Omaha Fire Union, saying the Union, was not quote “willing to reopen negotiations,” and continues to stand with its original contract. Mayor Suttle urged the City Council to reconsider its vote that turned down that agreement.

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