Omaha City Councilmembers speak on calls to defund police department

Published: Jun. 8, 2020 at 3:49 PM CDT
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There is a national outcry to defund police departments across the country following weeks of protest against the brutal in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other examples of what many believe to be overly aggressive police tactics against protesters.

In Minneapolis, city leaders plan not only to defund the police department -- they want to dismantle it altogether.

“I understand people being angry and I understand people wanting to see change. I understand people wanting to see immediate change, but you got to be rational at the same time,” said Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray.

When it comes to police reform, Gray said there should not be a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach.

“We just can’t do everything just because we’re ticked off right now. We’ve got to analyze and take a look at things from the perspective of Omaha, not the perspective of Minneapolis, not the perspective of New York, not the perspective of Cincinnati or other places. We have to look at what best fits Omaha,” he said.

Other councilmembers say Omaha Police leadership has worked to improve the department.

“Since Todd Schmaderer became chief about eight years ago he started working on that the minute he became chief, from previous chiefs who started the process. Chief (Tom) Warren did some amazing things for the City of Omaha and I would say what we’ve done has continued to build on that,” said Councilwoman Aimee Melton.

Melton said defunding the police department and making wholesale changes could set Omaha back in the progress it has already made.

Gray said there is still work to do in Omaha and around the country to improve police behavior and community relations.

But he said people who want to defund police departments should be careful what they wish for.

“But to just willy-nilly do away and make wholesale changes, you can end up with a worse product than what you have right now,” Gray said.

Some proponents of defunding police departments said they are not talking about getting rid of police departments, they’re talking about creating a plan with a public safety system that works for everyone.

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