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Omaha pilot program gives second chances to those arrested on lesser charges

Officials said diversion program tested this summer following protest arrests
Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 1:07 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The City of Omaha unveiled a pilot program Tuesday designed to give second chances to those arrested on certain minor offenses.

The city prosecutor, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, and the city’s Human Rights and Relations Department joined Mayor Jean Stothert in a news conference announcing the city’s new Restorative Justice diversion program.

Those facing DUI and assault charges will not be eligible, but in some cases, those who find themselves in drug or traffic court facing minor misdemeanors — and having little, if any, criminal history — will be recommended for diversion, like completing a class or community service. And if they stay out of trouble for six months afterward, the charges would be dismissed and their record sealed.

“The Restorative Justice Program offers second chances,” Stothert said. “It offers them options. They don’t have to go into the program, but it’s one option they can have for a second chance.”

Diversion programs for misdemeanor charges aren’t a new concept. Nearly 1,200 people went through the criminal diversion in 2019, with a 69% completion rate.

The program was also tested this summer on a handful of individuals arrested during the protests for social justice in Omaha. In some cases, diversion was offered to five adults and 11 juveniles by the city prosecutor for those arrested on charges of resisting arrest, obstruction, or disorderly conduct.

The program was proposed by Deputy Cheif Michele Bang and the Omaha Police Officers Association President Tony Conner to create an alternative to usual prosecutions. There’s no additional cost to the program since existing personnel will run the four-hour classes, and the 12 hours of community service will be administrated by existing programs.

“I believe it will send a message to the Omaha community that we don’t just tell you and talk down to you — we’re willing to communicate and have an authentic dialogue,” said Franklin Thompson, Omaha Human Rights and Relations director.

The sessions gave both officers and participants a chance to be heard, which led to better understanding, the mayor said in the release.

“Oftentimes, people arrested for minor offenses are not at their best; they may be angry or intoxicated and often misunderstand the law,” she said.

Thompson said he hopes the officers as well as those arrested are able to learn from each other, about their perspectives, and find a way to move forward.

Watch the full news conference

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