Omaha to explore new crime tackling measures

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September 6th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle announced a new set of recommendations today to tackle gun violence in Omaha.

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Last week, Mayor Suttle released a hefty list of ways to tackle crime. They were the recommendations of a taskforce that targeted problem landlords and vacant buildings. The idea was those provide shelter for criminal activity. Thursday, he released another set of recommendations from a second task force targeting illegal guns. “We are doing a number of individual objectives, but they are all connected,” Suttle said at a press conference.

Mayor Jim Suttle promised two task forces in his State of the City address February that would tackle crime. One focused on landlords and vacant housing, the other on illegal guns. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“Whether we’re dealing with abandoned housing… job creation… code enforcement,” he said, “or whether we’re dealing with this issue of illegal guns. They all have a connectivity.”

The task force includes Omaha City Councilmen, police officers, city prosecutors and community members. In a similar vein to the first group, these recommendations are collaborative and multi-pronged. They include expanding the Omaha Police Department’s gun amnesty program to include cash or gift card rewards as incentives to turn in illegal guns. They also include stricter penalties for repeat gun crime offenders, and a more intervention-style approach for first-timers.

Jonathan Crosby, co-chair of the task force and a special prosecutor for the city, said misdemeanor gun crime convictions currently carry short incarceration periods of under 30 days. “Then they go back about on the streets,” Crosby said, “and we know they go right back to that lifestyle that got them into the system to begin with.” Crosby added, “It’s the recommendation of this task force that we change our thought process regarding sentencing in these cases.”

That could include adding requirements to probation like working with mentors, getting job training or completing high school, Crosby said. Councilman Ben Gray, who represents northeast Omaha, said investing in young people will encourage them to make better choices. “A lot of these people don’t want to be doing what they’re doing,” Gray said. “But there are very limited resources. There has been, up to know, limited investment, specifically in northeast Omaha and some parts of South Omaha.”

Gray pointed to behind-the-scenes work of community groups that have started summer jobs programs in areas like northeast Omaha which can be a hotspot for crime, and said they’ve been a “blueprint” for what works.
Willie Barney heads the Empowerment Network, which leads that effort. He said there has been a 51% reduction in gun assaults over the past five years during the months of May, June and July. “Well what’s happening during those months?” he said. “Employment programs, neighborhoods are hosting more events, churches are more involved, police department is doing specific tactics. All of that combined has created a 51% reduction in gun violence in northeast precinct during those summer months.”

The members of the group were asked how they plan to get the community more involved in tackling crime and encourage them to step forward with information. Councilman Gray said the community is stepping forward in larger numbers every day, and Barney added Omaha will have further opportunity to step up next week with the announcement of new, tangible ways to get involved.

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