While gun violence nationwide began to rise in the mid-2010s and then surged starting in 2020, Omaha was no different. Its shootings and homicides rose, but then quickly dropped back to the 40-year lows they had reached in the late teens in a downward trajectory in violence the city has enjoyed over the past 15 years thanks to a shift in strategy that improved police-community relations, the city's police chief said during a Washington Post public safety webinar.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said a collaborative effort began tackling the problem at the start of that 15-year drop.
“In conjunction with the community, mainly the Empowerment Network 360 and the Omaha Police Department, we started this off about 15 years ago with the premise of just reducing that the gun violence,” said Schmaderer, who has been chief for the past 11 years.
Omaha, a city of nearly 500,000, saw non-fatal shootings drop from 246 in 2009 to 121 last year, and a decline in homicides from 50 in 2015 to 30 last year. Over the same period, clearance rates soared from about half of violent crimes solved to an average of 80 percent in the last decade.
On the policing side, Schmaderer said, "We have progressed to a model of about 30, 30, 30. We do about 30 percent enforcement, 30 percent intervention, and 30 percent prevention and that’s really an ideal mix for a city and it’s a progression to get there.”
But it's not just policing. Omaha 360 emphasizes collaboration, recovery and reentry services along with specific interventions and prevention strategies.
He credited Omaha 360's successful to a weekly meeting. Every Wednesday at 2 p.m., the city hosts a large gathering, with an average of 100 participants. “The beauty of those meetings is we can analyze what's going on in the city on a weekly basis,” Schmaderer said.
“It's been very successful because every city is going to have your spikes and violence. A lot of times you're judged by how well you can intervene in those,” Schmaderer said. “In the city of Omaha, it's really a shared responsibility.”
On top of the weekly meetings, Omaha uses violence interrupters who go into communities to prevent acts of violence.
Violence interrupters are adept at being informed of who’s involved in gang life and vulnerable to situations of violence. They work with those individuals to steer them in the right direction. “It might be helping them get out of the city, it might be helping them get some resources or a new place to live where they're not being targeted by gun violence,” Schmaderer said.
By sustaining its efforts over a prolonged period, the chief said, the city has avoided the worst of recent years' violence experienced in other cities, Schmaderer said. "We weren't always successful," he said. "We have the ability to adapt and adjust. And I do think this is adaptable to other cities."