If you take out the gang and gun violence, "we are the model city in the country," said Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer during a joint meeting of the Omaha and Lincoln city councils Thursday.
"What drives up our numbers is gang and gun violence. It drives homicides and it drives the headline news," Schmaderer said as he and Lincoln’s police chief described how their communities deal with gangs.
Members from both city councils also discussed ways to cooperate on economic development and commiserated over funding problems with defined benefit retirement programs, during a joint meeting held at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Omaha, with 13 to 14 active gangs, and more than 200 members in its largest gang, has police officers with expertise on each gang. If there is a shooting or homicide, a gang officer goes with the homicide unit, the Omaha chief said.
Last year, the department had a homicide clearance rate of 76 percent. So far this year, they've cleared 11 out of 12 homicides, he said.
Using private donations, the department raised the crime stopper payout to $25,000 on homicides and have a $200,000 system of hidden cameras scattered around the city to monitor gangs and gang leaders, he said.
The police focus on getting information on gang leaders that police can use in court, because ordinary people are afraid to testify against them, he said.
Omaha also has police doing prevention work in middle schools, he said, explaining, “You are not going to arrest yourself out of the gang problem.”
Though Lincoln doesn't have Omaha-sized gang problems, Lincoln police work hard to try to ensure local gang problems don't get out of hand, said Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong.
Last year, the city had three gang-related homicides and a fourth where a gang member, carrying his weapon, got upset while playing craps and killed someone, Peschong said.
Lincoln has about 900 gang members and the numbers are growing. In 2012, gang problems started to escalate beyond gangs fighting with each other to victimizing innocent citizens.
"They were spreading their wings and feeling like untouchables," Peschong said.
So police beefed up a one-person gang unit with four investigators and a supervisor in an effort to develop informants and gather more information. This year, the department has two gang investigators and a half-time sergeant, and is pulling information from social media, such as pictures of gang members holding guns, which can be used as evidence in court.
The city also has applied for a grant to get a couple of additional officers, Peschong said.
Lincoln also has a sophisticated data system that identifies problem properties and can alert landlords by email whenever an officer visits their properties.
The police are also putting pressure on landlords to evict problem tenants by citing uncooperative landlords for having a disorderly house.
Some landlords have begun revising leases so they can more easily evict problem tenants. Some have gotten out of the business and some absentee landlords have hired property management companies, Peschong said.