Councilman questions Omaha mayor’s police oversight panel

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

OMAHA—Add City Council Vice-President Ben Gray to the list of those skeptical or critical of Mayor Jean Stothert’s police oversight panel.

“I have my concerns about whether it will work or not,” Gray tells Nebraska Watchdog.

Ben Gray

Stothert’s Citizen Complaint Review Board—created by an executive order without the council’s OK— will be comprised of five citizens, one from each of the city’s four police precincts and one at-large member, issuing findings and nonbinding recommendations to the mayor and police chief.

The panel also lacks subpoena power. According to Stothert, granting subpoena power would be prohibited by law.

In addition all board members are:

  • Volunteers appointed by the mayor.
  • Required to sign a Confidentiality Agreement—in effect sworn to secrecy.
  • Only allowed to review Omaha Police Department internal investigations, unable to launch their own investigations.

“Is it something that feels good and really doesn’t do anything,” says Gray who represents the predominately black Ward 2 on the city’s near north side.

Mayor Jean Stothert, last Friday, announcing the Citizens Complaint Review Board

Several north Omaha activists argue because the board is appointed by the mayor it is anything but independent.

“(It) has no substance to it whatsoever,” says Willie Hamilton, Executive Director of Black Men United.

Stothert’s panel would fill an oversight vacuum that has existed since 2006 when Mayor Mike Fahey eliminated the police auditor’s post, which is now estimated to cost at least $250,000.

Hamilton finds the money of little consequence. “If public safety is really, truly the issue $200,000 should not be of any importance.”

“My goal as far as law enforcement is too get more police officers on the street,” Stothert told Nebraska Watchdog (see video here) when she announced the board last week.

As for the oversight panel the mayor says one of her goals is to build trust between police and citizens; trust that helps police solve crimes.

“If people don’t think (the review board) is going to work they’re not going to participate in it,” says former Omaha police officer Marlin McClarty.

The mayor’s office is currently taking applications for the board which is expected to be up and running by March.

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org and listen to Joe every Monday morning at 7:40 on KFAB radio in Omaha.

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