Published Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:02 pm
Midlands Voices
Midlands Voices: Review board won’t provide oversight

The writer, of Lincoln, is legal director for the ACLU of Nebraska.

The recently announced Citizen Complaint Review Board will fail to provide real accountability and oversight of police for the people of Omaha. The plan, as announced, provides for no meaningful independence.

Mayor Jean Stothert, much like the great wizard, hopes that no one will look behind the curtain. Residents of Omaha should not be fooled by the lights and smoke, and they should continue to demand meaningful reform.

The accountability and oversight truly needed in Omaha should have three goals:

>> Keep all residents safe.

>> Treat people fairly.

>> Use our tax dollars wisely.

The years of complaints that the ACLU office has received, as well as a review of best practices successfully implemented in other cities around the country, leads me to believe the mayor’s plan will fail on all three fronts.

Under the new board plan, the mayor and the chief of police — the very people who need independent oversight — would have the ability to micromanage the appointment and actions of the review board.

Any review board that is to provide meaningful oversight needs to have members selected by someone outside the city government’s executive branch.

The board also needs the ability to act without the approval of the Mayor’s Office and interference from Omaha Police Department command staff. Additionally, the plan requires the board to be reactive and wait for complaints, rather than considering ways to improve practices in Omaha on an ongoing basis.

People in Omaha have serious concerns, and they should be disturbed by the inability of the mayor’s plan to address them in a meaningful way.

By failing to provide independent oversight, this board will not increase trust and safety.

Numerous studies have shown that an individual who does not have trust in law enforcement is often unwilling to report a crime or participate in investigations. This new board will not build the community trust needed to make Omaha a safer community.

We don’t need to wait until a review board receives a complaint to address the growing list of concerns from residents about unfair practices in Omaha. The allegations of evidence tampering, racial bias, excessive force and other forms of misconduct in the past few years alone demonstrate that reform is needed now.

Because the board will not provide the accountability and oversight needed to keep Omaha safe and ensure fair treatment of all residents, it will be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

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