Public Safety Oversight Dept. Proposed in Omaha

OMAHA, Neb. --

There's a new proposal by a City Council member designed to provide more oversight when it comes to Omaha's police and fire departments.

The idea comes on the heels of a controversial arrest that was caught on surveillance video at the Creighton University Medical Center. The video shows a man accused of assaulting a police officer being kicked repeatedly while being placed under arrest. The video was taken by police officials to the City Prosecutor who found there was no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officers involved in the arrest.

The city used to have a public safety auditor who would investigate such cases. Now, City Councilman Ben Gray is proposing that a city department be set up to monitor the actions by police and firefighters. Such a proposal would have to be approved by the voters.

"It needs to be a department so it is protected," Gray said. "That way mayors and City Council members can't get at it whenever they want. It becomes part of the city charter."

The public safety auditor was previously an appointed position. If a department is created, Gray said it would take politics out of the equation.

In a separate issue, Tristan Bonn, the former public safety auditor, sent the City Council an email asking council members to eliminate the so-called "secrecy clauses" from police and fire labor contracts. She said the current language keeps the nature of employee disciplinary actions from being made public until late in the appeals process.

"The public could then ask the questions they needed to about what happened and was it properly addressed," said Bonn.

Initial reaction to Bonn's proposal was positive from the council members KETV NewsWatch 7 talked to.

"If it passes through the legal department I would say 'absolutely,' since I think the public has a right to know," said City Councilwoman Jean Stothert.

"There are some concerned citizens and they're not just in east Omaha," said City Councilman Dr. Franklin Thompson. "I'm getting quite a few emails from west Omaha."

Police union officials said they were wary of Gray's proposal to create a new public safety auditing department, and they disagreed completely with Bonn's idea.

"It's further erosion," said Sgt. John Wells with the Omaha Police Officers Association. "It puts officers in a special class when the courts have ruled again that officers have the same rights as every other American."

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