Advocates for civilian oversight of Omaha police were generally critical of Mayor Jean Stothert's decision to create a Citizen Complaint Review Board, although some praised her for taking action on the issue.
Stothert on Friday used an executive order to create the advisory panel.
The Citizens Complaint Review Board will be allowed to review Omaha Police Department internal investigations and to issue findings and recommendations to the Mayor's Office.
It also can review annual Police Department data and identify any areas of concern. The board won't have the authority to conduct its own investigations, nor will its recommendations be binding on the mayor or police chief. It will work confidentially.
Stothert was flanked by Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Omaha police union President John Wells as she signed the executive order Friday.
Stothert said Omaha police officers use good judgment in the overwhelming majority of circumstances.
“The main purpose of this is to build trust between our citizens and the Police Department,” Stothert said. “The Police Department needs that to solve crimes.”
On Friday afternoon, Willie Hamilton said he had received numerous calls from fellow advocates for greater civilian oversight.
“For them (the mayor and police) to come up with this and say it's a viable alternative to independent oversight, it's laughable,” Hamilton said. “It has to be independent of the Mayor's Office, independent of the police and have subpoena power.”
The Rev. Michael Williams, who said he has been a member of a civilian review board in New Mexico, said such a board works better if it has more teeth.
That said, Williams said creating the review board is a positive step.
“You have to give her (Mayor Stothert) props for doing that,” he said. “She said during the campaign that she was not in favor of an auditor, but she was in favor of a citizens review board.”
Under the order, the mayor will appoint the board's five members: one from each of Omaha's four police precincts and one at large.
Stothert also will appoint an alternate. The unpaid, volunteer panel will have three nonvoting, advisory members, one each from the police command staff, City Law Department and Human Rights and Relations Department.
Stothert said she hoped to have a board named by March. It will meet monthly.
Citizens may submit requests for review of their complaints. The board can review how police handled the matter but cannot review criminal investigations, nor any case in which the police chief has disciplined an officer, unless the officer has appealed the discipline.
The board won't be allowed to review cases where an outside authority, such as the county attorney, State Patrol or a grand jury, has become involved.
The board can review the Police Department's handling of a citizen's complaint only when the citizen who filed asks the board to do so.
Stothert said the volunteer board provides for broader civilian oversight than a paid police auditor would, while following the law and police union contracts and respecting the police chief's authority.