Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The O factor

Nebraska's two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln, are barely 50 miles apart and growing closer every day. Lincoln's population is 241,167; Omaha's population is 419,545. While the Omaha metro area is considerably larger (a little over 800,000), you could make a good argument that Lincoln and Omaha are part of the same population center. The development occurring in the Interstate 80 corridor between the two cities is evidence of this.

I think a lot of people in Lincoln have an Omaha complex: Omaha is great, Lincoln is the unfortunate stepsister. The Lincoln Journal Star did a pretty extensive special report on this, appropriately titled The O Factor.

Time for a followup. There was a remarkable story above the fold on the front page of Sunday's Omaha World Herald: 31 Days, 31 Victims. During the 31 days of July, 2007, 31 people were shot in the City of Omaha. The reporting and writing were top-notch. Here's the number of people that were shot in Lincoln during the month of July:


During 2007, as of today, there have been six people shot in Lincoln. During 2006, there were a total of ten. Something other than the population difference is at work. I suspect that Omaha has more concentrated disadvantage, more gang activity, more drugs. But the differences do not seem to be so dramatic as to account for this phenomenal difference in gun violence. In fact, these communities feel quite similar to one another in many respects. The traffic at 72nd and Pacific feels like 48th and O, Village Pointe feels like South Pointe, the Old Market feels like the Haymarket, Shadow Ridge feels like Wilderness Ridge, N. 30th feels like N. 27th, Wohlner's feels like Ideal.

From a police perspective, I can assure you that although most Lincolnites don't see it, it sometimes feels to police officers that Lincoln is awash in gang bangers, drug addicts, petty criminals of every stripe, thugs, prostitutes, johns, registered sex offenders and career criminals on intensive supervision probation for their 32nd conviction. It just doesn't seem that Omaha should have a shooting nearly every day, and Lincoln less than one a month.

I'm not complaining, though.


Anonymous said...

As a native Lincolnite currently living in Omaha, I quickly realized how much I took Lincoln for granted.

Ed S 359 said...

Chief: No denying it there is an Omaha factor. Omaha has a major regional airport, Lincoln does not. Moreover it appears that our elected leaders don’t care. Remember when they let Gallup leave town. Gallup would have preferred to stay but the city/county would not do anything to help them stay. I’ll wager that would not have happened in Omaha.

Omaha now encompasses almost all of Douglas County. Almost every road and street in Douglas County is paved. Not only is that not true here but when we do pave something we invariably have to tear it up and re-pave because it was not done properly the first time. (Measure twice, cut once. Time is money, but time and concrete is even more money.)

As screwed up as politics are in Omaha their politicians are not afraid to make decisions which make their city more attractive to business and which increase revenues from other tourists and Lincolnites. Our elected leaders would rather see business go to Omaha than to Lincoln and it seems they would rather see their own citizens go to Omaha to spend our money than to find ways to keep our money here. The reason, in my mind, that some people feel as if Lincoln is Omaha’s unfortunate stepsister; is because our city leaders are content with being the unfortunate step sister.

That being said Omaha has problems. One problem is their crime. It is big city crime; of course Omaha is a big city. Lincoln is becoming a big city. I believe one real reason Lincoln does not have that kind of crime problem is the diligence of our police department. Small as we are, we do our best to pay attention to every little detail of crime and civil distress in our city. If the ability to keep up this level of devotion to every detail of our work is taken away from us, Lincoln will be well on its way to a crime rate equal to Omaha’s.

Omaha has a great police department. Every one of those 31 shootings last month was responded to by Omaha Police Officers and Omaha Police Officers were involved in some of them. No amount of pay or retirement package is worth being involved in a shooting.

I suspect they are greatly unappreciated by those they serve. And I know, from the years I worked with their union, that the rank and file police officer in Omaha is greatly unappreciated by their current administration. Multi-day and multi-week suspensions are common. There seems to be no real two-way dialogue between the working streets stiffs and the chief’s office. (Its Internal Affairs Office is a caricature of movie and TV Internal Affairs Divisions.)

Just a few minutes ago I caught you on the Colby Mach radio show. It took some courage on your part to admit that the morale (did I spell it correctly?) problem at LPD is real. I expect you may be called to task for that admission.

I agree that morale was very poor in 1981, very poor. 1994 was also a very tough time. I can not imagine how tough it was for you, Chief, or for Schellpeper, Wilke, (Wright) and a couple others. Still after the rest of us got over the unbelief, shock and anger, our morale was high. We all stood shoulder to shoulder and supported one another, even the Chief of Police. Like any family, it is a little bit shameful that we only really come together completely when we are attacked or in grief. But come together we did. I pray I never see the same type of reason for us to come together like that again.

Those two periods in LPD’s history are ancient history. Today’s officer is concerned with today, and sometimes with tomorrow. Some of us were not alive in 1981. Today’s crisis is real and it is demoralizing. Thank you for you acknowledgement of the problem.

Unfortunately the only real cure for the staffing situation is more people, officers and support staff. We need those people today. The foresight of our city parents has ensured that we will have no real relief for the next nine to twenty-one months.

Atticus said...

You are right, alot of Lincolnites wish that Lincoln was more like Omaha. I don't think they realize that those 'big city' attractions can come with the 'big city' problems. Be careful what you wish for...you just might get it.

Landfill said...

I agree with what Ed said. We need more officers on the street and we need them fast. I don't mind taking calls and doing reports. That's part of the job and I think if we don't take care of the small stuff then the big stuff will get out of hand before you know it. I've seen it happen. (broken windows theory?) Plus, if someone calls in something, no matter how insignificant it is, you can bet it's important to them and taking those calls and being friendly generates lots of support for the department. I think that's why Omaha PD doesn't get a lot of support from the citizens.

I've heard a lot of the one and two year officers talking about getting out of here before they get too much time invested. They aren't complaining about the pay, benefits or equipment like most officers from other departments. We have it real good in those areas. They are getting burned out taking lots of calls, but realize that it's busy sometimes. Their main concern that I see and hear is having enough people to back them up. Lately there have been lots of shifts that are at or below minimum several days in a row. Throw in a shooting or a major accident/fire and there may be one or two officers in service in the entire city. Throw another potentially bad call in there, which could start out as innocent as a suspicious person, and you've got one officer that's going with back-up coming from another team may be 15 minutes away. More than one major incident at a time happens rarely but it will happen one day and that is in the back of their minds and they speak often about it between themselves. They are not going to voice these ideas to staff even if the keys are in the Chief's door.

One 'what if' I hear them bounce around a lot is what if some gang members came from Omaha (the O factor!) and drove around town on a Saturday night randomly shooting people on the street. Things would go absolutely nuts and they know it. If that's not enough stress, then they get written up for little nit picky things and get hounded to write more traffic tickets.

I support the Chief, even if he doesn't say HI when he passes me in the hall. (Might be a personal thing.) I think he would love to have twice as many officers even with the obvious problems that could cause. He has done a lot to drop the calls for service the officers have to take so they can spend their time doing more proactive things and get reports done.

I fear that the only way the city will ever get the message is when an officer gets hurt or killed because there aren't enough cops on the street and there is a huge lawsuit because of it.

That's my theory of why morale is low. I don't know if this will get posted or if this is the right section to post this in. I know the Chief will at least see it and I actually feel a little less stressed out getting it off of my chest.