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Anti-violence advocate praises stats showing decrease in Omaha gun violence

Anti-violence advocate praises stats showing decrease in Omaha gun violence

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An influential leader working to improve the quality of life for all Omaha residents said Wednesday that he’s encouraged by the Police Department’s latest release of gun violence statistics.

“You can see a measurable decrease in most areas of the city,” said Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network. “Gun violence is down citywide and especially in the northeast precinct.”

Barney was speaking at Omaha 360’s weekly collaborative meeting at the Omaha Home for Boys. Omaha 360 is a coalition of local organizations and government officials who are focused on ending gun and gang violence as well as revitalizing neighborhoods.

Through the first nine months of 2014 there have been 109 instances of gun violence in Omaha, Barney said. That number is up slightly from the 106 shootings in 2013 — when the city saw a 10-year low — but far below the 162 shootings recorded in 2007, when Omaha 360 was formed.

More important, Barney said, gun violence in the troubled northeast precinct dropped sharply from 59 gun violence incidents through the first nine months of 2013 to 48 during the same period this year. The southeast precinct saw a spike in gun violence with 22 reported incidents in 2014 compared with 15 last year.

“Overall, we’re seeing a lot of improvement, but even one incident is too many because it’s so destructive and has a terrible impact on families,” Barney said.

Omaha homicides are also down, with 22 slayings through September compared with 33 in 2013. Homicides are being solved at a rate any city would envy, Barney said, with police making an arrest in 81 percent of homicides in 2014, compared with 79 percent in 2013 and just 46 percent in 2012.

“What we’ve seen is a large number of people stepping forward to provide information to the Police Department,” Barney said.

Lt. Ken Kanger of the Omaha Police Department’s gang unit echoed Barney’s assessment. He cited two incidents in which anonymous calls were made to police about gatherings of gang members.

In one case, three illegal guns ended up being taken off the street. In the second case, one illegal gun was seized.

“More people are calling Crime Stoppers, and they are receiving cash rewards,” Kanger said.

Barney announced that there will be a celebration of life for the city’s youngest homicide victim this year, Payton Benson, who died Jan. 15 from a stray gunshot while having breakfast in her home. Payton would have turned 6 years old on Sunday.

Her mother, Tabatha Manning, is inviting the public to attend a balloon release Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Turning Point Campus near 45th Street and Bedford Avenue. There will be music, plus soup and cornbread provided by Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering.

A flier for the event said that Payton’s family wants to celebrate young men “who are working to turn their lives around” and have signed a pledge of peace.

“It’s time to move from forgiveness to community acceptance and participation in support of the movement,” Manning wrote.

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