Monday, September 15, 2008

From the fourteenth floor

Friday, I spent most of the day in Omaha, where the Nebraska Legislature's Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing on Legislative Resolution 390, an interim study of gun violence in Nebraska. The resolution was chiefly concerned with the prevalence of gun violence in the State, so I took along the most recent data on the involvement of firearms in violent crime in Lincoln:

The morning testimony exclusively concerned gun violence in Omaha. Mayor Fahey, two Omaha City Councilmen, and three groups working to reduce gun violence in Omaha spoke. The committee then took a lunch break, from which half of the senators and most of the reporters did not return. Thinking it would be improper for the second-largest City in the State to be absent from a hearing about gun violence in Nebraska, I stuck around.

When it was my turn to testify, I told the committee that I was at a loss to describe the apparent discrepancy in gun violence rates between Omaha and Lincoln--particularly since Lincoln's rate of aggravated assault is actually higher than Omaha's. If you check comparative crime rates between these two cities, you'll see that Omaha leads in robbery, murder, and auto theft; Lincoln leads in aggravated assault, burglary, and larceny-theft; and we are essentially tied in forcible rape rates. I digressed into a little amateur sociology, but I really have no good answer on why two cities that seem so similar in many respects differ so much on one particular type of crime--rare, though serious: gun crime.

Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, I testified at another hearing after being subpoenaed to the Commission of Industrial Relations. The Commission is hearing a labor dispute between the Omaha Police Union and the City of Omaha. In Nebraska, public employees have no right to strike. The trade-off is that the State has adopted the rule of comparability in public employee compensation: salaries and benefits are to be based on comparable work in comparable cities. The Commission is the arbitrator when two sides disagree on what constitutes comparability.

Apparently the Omaha Police Union does not want the City of Lincoln to be considered by the Commission in the array of comparable cities--due to the lower benefits our officers receive compared to Omaha. They argue that Lincoln should be excluded because the working conditions are so different in Lincoln that it is not comparable to Omaha. Rather, the union would prefer the Commission accept some more distant cities where salaries and benefits are higher. I have no dog whatsoever in this fight, but can't ignore a subpoena, and was summoned to testify by the lawyers representing the City of Omaha.

During my testimony, the attorney for the union asked an interesting question. He asked me to consider two welders: one who works on structural steel, 20 floors up; the other who welds at ground level. "Wouldn't you agree that the working conditions are not the same," he asked. "Yes, I would," I answered. I wanted to say more, but held my tongue. His implication that Omaha police officers are welding on the 20th floor might be a good one, but Lincoln officers aren't exactly at ground level. We may be welding on the 14th floor, but the fall is equally fatal.


Anonymous said...

Omaha's Attitude

JT said...

This wiki page will have you believing that Nebraska is already one of the lowest homicide and gun homicide rates in the nation. Like 38th in the nation. While it is bad that any violence occurs, it is part of life when any population mass gets together in a small area. If not guns, then knives or whatever else people can lay hands on. (Or just learn to use their hands!)

I hope Nebraska can continue to move in the right direction - enforcing laws and being tougher in sentencing criminals in violent cases. NOT enforcing more registration and failed bureaucratic overreaching "rules" that do nothing to curb violence. News flash - criminals don't follow the rules!!! There are already plenty of laws against assault, robbery, and every other type of crime, that intensify their punishment when they are performed with a firearm. Not to mention laws against felons in possession of a firearm.

Anonymous said...

I saw your pic in the paper. Thought u might be interested

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 10:19-

That's a low blow. Fortunately, I'm not one of those comb-over types: I embrace my baldness--I earned it. Besides, it saves a lot of time, electricity, and money.

Anonymous said...

Chief, Off the topic a little but you need to blog about the guardian dropping off her 15yr old nephew at the hopsital under our new safe haven law. Does this mean that I can refer upset parents and parents that have out of control kids that are telling me to take them to juvenile hall to just take them to the hospital and leave? Sounds like a major loop hole in the law that the state is going to regret. Here comes the tax increases to pay for this.

Anonymous said...

Did you explain that the Omaha officers don't weld on the 20th floor. They go up to the 20th floor mark it off with crime scene tape and the plain clothes welders come in at a later time.
Lincoln officers climb the building, weld, sand, drywall, paint and then the next day are assigned to go back and re-check their work and do any follow up work.

Jim Malone said...

They say grass doesn't grow on a busy road... :)

Anonymous said...

The vast disproportionate majority of Omaha's shootings happen in one part of town, by those that are legally prohibited from buying or possessing firearms due to age or criminal record. Most of the time, if they'd served out their full sentences for prior convictions, they wouldn't have been out to pull the trigger on a gun they were forbidden to even hold anyway. The best way to keep documented violent career criminals from committing more crimes is to keep them locked up! It's cheaper for the taxpayers to build more prisons than to have these thugs back out on the street, early-released or paroled due to lack of cell space.

By the way, I'm a voluntary cue-ball. It's just less trouble than hair, and only takes a couple of minutes to buzz my stubble every day. What I've saved, and will continue to save, on shampoo and haircuts will hopefully help pay for that chalet on Lake Geneva (or a cabin in the Black Hills) eventually.

Tom Casady said...


I think the local press will cover that extensively, so I probably won't need to add my two cents. I try not to rehash what you already read/see/hear in the local media. We'll see.


That's a clever analogy. The divisions of welding, painting, sanding, drywalling, and inspections all have to be staffed by police personnel that could otherwise be on the street. One of the impacts of lots of specialization is fewer people out where the rubber meets the road.

There are, however, some places where specialization is the best way to go. I want my wisdom teeth to be surgically removed by someone who does a few dozen every month.

Anonymous said...

Chief & 10:55 -

Check out the comments on the Journal Star. I doubt there will be much more to say.

Anonymous said...

Omaha should ban all handguns like Washington D.C. - That worked real well there, then Omaha can be in the running for the highest homicide rate.

With brilliant politicians such as Mike Fahey and Brad Ashford leading the way, Omaha will not improve.

The day that people start taking responsibility for their own children, and actually sticking around to be there for their kids, aka being a parent.... Only then will this "gun violence" problem be reduced.

Looks like Omaha also has a "stabbing violence" problem, but of course the news media isn't focusing on that because screwdrivers and knives don't make a good scary story.

Zen said...

D.C.'s law was ruled unconstitutional a few months back.

Anonymous said...

Chief, I grew up in Omaha and lived there my entire life until going to college at UNL. After graduation I decided to live in Lincoln but have thought many times about moving back to "The Big O".

I have to say....the differences between Omaha and Lincoln are very stark. Like you and the committee members, I just can't put my finger on what the difference is when it comes to gun violence. There's just a feeling of uneasyness in certain parts of Omaha that I've never felt in Lincoln. Also, parts of Omaha are more ethnically segregated (de facto, of course) than Lincoln. But even that doesn't explain everything as there have been gun violence incidents in all parts of Omaha, including a highly publicized case in Millard.

Bottom line, I definitely feel there is a higher risk of encountering gun violence in Omaha than Lincoln. I just wish it weren't true.

Jynx said...

It is not by chance or because "Omaha has a bad neighborhood", that crime is more prevalent in Omaha. It is because they simply don't go to those neighborhoods. They spend their time bothering people who "know" someone in the police department. Why are they in Millard, at a single-Mom's house, searching my car and house just to harass me when they could be out in those "bad" neighborhoods? Never have I been charged with any crime, I worked for the school system for 8 years, until I got hurt on the job. It is just stupid. Not only does Millard Public Schools horribly waste our tax dollars (I was there) but they have the power to shut people up.
OPD needs a serious make-over. It is not by chance Lincoln's crime rate and media is less than Omaha, it is the system and the people running it that is corrupt. I wish LPD would take over all law inforcement.