Demands for public safty auditor resurface

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September 12th, 2011

Omaha, NE – Community activists are renewing calls for public oversight of both the Omaha fire and police departments. That comes after a 50-page internal review of allegedly inappropriate conduct at the Omaha Fire Department was made public.

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The report details an investigation from 2003 into one Omaha fire station – Station 56 on 165th and Pacific Streets. It alleges firefighters at the station regularly engaged in drinking, gambling, and sexual misconduct – on the job. According to the report, the fire fighters were reprimanded, but not terminated. Current Fire Chief Mike McDonnell told reporters later Monday that the incident was an isolated problem.

Sam Walker, a professor in the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Criminal Justice Department, along with Tristan Bonn, Omaha’s former police auditor, handed the file to a room full of reporters Monday afternoon. Bonn said she believes the incident was not isolated, and argued that there’s no process in place to prove otherwise.

Sam Walker and Tristan Bonn call for the reinstatement of the police auditor position at city hall. (Photo by Angel Martin)

“Omaha is in desperate need of more transparency and accountability within these agencies,” Bonn said. “It’s so far off the mark, it’s so lacking in transparency and accountability that it’s hard for anybody who has any of the kind of background that I do to not comment on it.”

Walker and Bonn called for more oversight of both the fire and police departments, which currently rely on an internal review process to investigate complaints. Walker said Omaha is failing to provide adequate oversight of public agencies, particularly when compared to other cities.

“Other cities are moving forward,” Walker said. “Omaha is in the embarrassing position of moving backwards, having fired the auditor. Others (cities) are adding. They see it as important. This is one of the main recommendations of the justice department when they sue individual cities in terms of the police departments to have some sort of citizen oversight.”

Walker and Bonn said the report was leaked anonymously this summer. The names in the report were deleted.

Just a week ago, Walker, Bonn and other community activists called another press conference, to push for public oversight of the police department. That was after a video surfaced involving the arrest of an Omaha man, Robert Wagner, which the group called overly-forceful. In a phone conversation with KVNO News, Mayor Jim Suttle’s spokesperson Aida Amoura said the mayor has supported reinstating the public auditor, but was told by the Omaha City Council the position was too expensive.

“This is an administration that says they do want to be transparent,” Amoura said. “If more needs to be done to solve problems that we have the city, this mayor has been open to that. If that would include a police auditor, this mayor would be open to that.”

For now, the internal review process for both the police and fire departments will remain the same, as no action has been taken to place this issue on the city council’s agenda.

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