Douglas County’s new sheriff to prioritize juvenile offender supervision

County corrections also using new assessment program to determine risk a suspect has to re-offend
Aaron Hanson will take over as Douglas County Sheriff in the new year and wants to increase supervision on high-risk youth offenders in particular.
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 9:02 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - When Omaha Police Sgt. Aaron Hanson announced his intentions to run for Douglas County Sheriff in the summer of 2021, one of his key reasons centered on high-risk young offenders who aren’t following the rules of probation and are on the run.

“I realized there is nobody whose full-time responsibility it was to track down these young juvenile offenders, who abscond, and bring them back into the juvenile court system — back into their homes for rehabilitation,” Hanson told 6 News.

Now that Hanson won the sheriff’s race — replacing Sheriff Tom Wheeler, who retires Dec. 31 — he wants to hit the ground running and use department resources as part of the solution.

“We need to expand it further into the sheriff’s office,” Hanson said. “There needs to be some street-level supervision, especially in terms of the high-risk, repeat, violent offenders.”

Hanson points to the recent case of a shooting at a downtown parking garage in early November: a 14- and 15-year-old were hit. Last week, Omaha Police arrested 22-year-old Ronniel Wells for use of a gun and assault. The next day, a judge set bail at $50,000/10%.

Wells posted five thousand dollars the next day and is required to wear a GPS monitor.

“I’m not questioning the judge’s discretion of whether they get bond or go on pre-trial release supervision,” Hanson said. “The main point is: Are we supervising these high-risk offenders appropriately in the community? If you look at forward-thinking sheriff’s departments across the country, they are having that mix of administrative supervision — is what we have now in Douglas County? But real street-level supervision by sworn police professionals and deputies — that’s the growth area now.”

This part of the equation isn’t about juvenile offenders and probation supervision, but about Douglas County Corrections. Since September, corrections has been using a new assessment program to determine the risk a suspect has to re-offend. That information is given to a judge to consider.

Sheriff-elect Hanson hopes his team can be an added resource to both probation and corrections.

Now, whenever a newly arrested suspect goes before a Douglas County judge for a bond hearing, someone from Douglas County Corrections is in the same room sharing a score between 1 and 4. The new risk-assessment program is used in a number of states and aims to use science to determine the supervision level needed while awaiting trial.

The judge makes the final decision.

The new program, used in a number of states, has been used here since September.

“We’re constantly looking for opportunities to get better, make our system fair, and that we keep the principles of pre-trial release — keep the community safe, do everything we can to make sure a defendant shows up for court, and that they remain arrest-free during the pre-trial phase,” said Tyrone Harper, the pre-trial release supervisor.

On average, Douglas County Corrections has around 600 or so people being monitored outside the jail before trial. The most serious at-risk who post bond, get a GPS monitor.

Harper said the old system of figuring out who’s high-risk has proven to be ineffective -- and unfair to many suspects.

“It took into account employment and substance abuse history, ties to the community; and those factors, based on the new tool, are not factors taken into consideration — and have not proven to be a predictor of pre-trial failure or success,” he said.

Hanson said this is why the need for supervision is key.

“That’s where the mix comes in,” he said. “We need administrators monitoring and peace officers supervising to keep the streets safe,”

Hanson made it one of his campaign themes that Douglas County deputies should have a role in supervising high-risk teenagers on the streets awaiting juvenile court — which is the role of probation now — as well as helping Douglas County Corrections administrators with pre-trial release when it comes to robust street monitoring.

“We need to make sure that the data is followed up,” Hanson said. “what does a GPS monitor tell you? Aaron Hanson is at 11th and Harney. But it doesn’t tell you whether I’m armed with a gun.”

The bottom line: Both individuals are committed to best practices when it comes to keeping the community safe.