Mayor Jim Suttle's administration publicized first-quarter crime statistics Wednesday, after two days in which the mayor and his challenger, Councilwoman Jean Stothert, have battled over the extent of the city's crime problem.
Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Willie Barney, head of the Empowerment Network, discussed the statistics showing that violent crime in Omaha dropped by 4 percent and overall crime by 3 percent in the first quarter of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012.
Schmaderer and Barney presented the three-month snapshot during a meeting of Omaha 360, a coalition of community groups, at the Omaha Home for Boys.
“If anyone looks objectively at the data and at the trend, you can see that Omaha is making progress,” Barney said. “We're not where we want to be, but we're making progress, and I think the community needs to know that.”
Schmaderer and Barney told the roughly 100 people at the meeting that the release of the crime statistics was not linked to the election fight.
“Please understand that the office of chief of police can never be involved in a political manner,” Schmaderer said Wednesday. “Anything that comes to us will get vetted, investigated and addressed without any influence.”
The new statistics' release, however, came two days after Stothert held a press conference and cited police statistics showing that violent crime and property crime increased by roughly 10 percent from 2010 to 2012. The statistics she cited compared all of 2010 to all of 2012.
Stothert challenged earlier statements by Suttle that crime had leveled off in the city.
Suttle's campaign responded Tuesday by calling Stothert's statistics “skewed.” The campaign said first-quarter statistics would show that anti-crime initiatives led by the Mayor's Office have had an impact.
Then, during a televised debate with Stothert on Tuesday night, Suttle showed a chart projecting that overall crime in 2013 would be lower than 2012.
“Our city works best when we work together,” Suttle said in a statement after Wednesday's meeting. “Thanks to community policing, new crime fighting technologies, greater resources for the gang unit, and strong partnerships with community organizations, we are effectively reducing crime and keeping our neighborhoods safer.”
Barney praised increased cooperation between citizens and police as well as organizations that work with gang members and other young offenders to reduce violence.
Barney also pointed Wednesday to older statistics gathered by the Empowerment Network, which he heads.
He said Omaha had five homicides in the first three months of 2013, compared with nine in the same period last year and 14 in the first quarter of 2011.
The number of gun assaults through March of this year, however, were relatively unchanged since 2008, with 32 reported in the first quarter of 2013 and 35 during the same period in 2008, Barney said.
He said he was encouraged by a trend showing gun assaults down during the summer months.
Police statistics showed a 43 percent drop in gun violence from 2007 to 2012 during the months of May, June and July. Barney attributed that to the willingness of businesses to employ more young people.
“We have more businesses willing to step up,” Barney said. “This is one of the most significant numbers because it shows when our young people are working and they have positive places to go, we see a decrease in violence.”
Schmaderer said reducing violent crime continues to be his priority.
He recently added another gang unit to his department “so there's coverage seven days a week on the streets” and expanded the use of ShotSpotter, technology that tracks the location of gunfire.
“The increases in the homicide unit and the cold case squad, I feel, will give us a head start leading into the summer months where we've been so effective reducing violent crime,” Schmaderer said.
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