He knows it sounds like a last resort but when it comes to stopping the violence in Omaha, Nebraska’s top crime fighting lawmaker seriously wonders if it’s time to call out the National Guard.
So far this year there have been 11 murders in Omaha putting the city on track for another 40 murder year. Last weekend there were five shootings, leaving two persons in critical condition and one man dead. According to Ashford, “This has all the potential of being a catastrophic summer.”
Ashford compares the ongoing shootings on the city’s north side to an urban war zone. “It may finally be time to bring out the National Guard. How is it worse than Baghdad? Instead of bombs we’ve got bullets.”
Ashford does not foresee the Guard acting as an extension of the Omaha Police Department’s (OPD) gang fighting unit but says the Guard could assist in “traffic control” freeing up other officers to concentrate on the shoot-outs. According to OPD the Nebraska State Patrol is already lending a hand but Ashford tells Nebraska Watchdog that budget cuts at the State Patrol may limit what troopers can do.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle issued a statement to Nebraska Watchdog insisting that the “solution to violence is not simply increasing the number of police officers.” According to the Mayor it takes, “…employment, education and enforcement.”
Ashford agrees in a long term solution, “We still need prevention-intervention; we can’t give up on these kids.” But Ashford is worried that in the short term, when school lets out for the summer and kids “have nothing to do”, the violence will increase rapidly.
As for calling out the National Guard, Ashford notes that this drastic measure was taken before; back in 1968 when Guardsmen were called in to stop a series of riots that were destroying cars, homes, and businesses. Ashford believes the sight of Guard members on the street would help deter this latest round of violence.
Just this week OPD showed reporters nearly two dozen guns that law enforcement confiscated between March 1 and April 6, most of them from suspected gang members.
The head of OPD’s anti-gang unit, Lt. Kerry Neumann, tells Nebraska Watchdog that after shootings occur and police saturate the “hot spots” with added officers, the shootings subside. “We usually don’t have hardly any incidents of violence on the evenings that we do some heightened patrol operations,” Neumann said.
At the same time Neumann says OPD can only do so much, “It would definitely help if we had more officers on the street but under the limited budget we have and the manpower we are allotted we can just do what we have to do.”
Ashford says Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes is doing, “all the right things.” But according to Ashford the growing combination of drugs, gangs and illegal guns mixed with strained law enforcement budgets, is a recipe for “Omaha’s worst summer ever.”
Editor’s note: to subscribe free of charge to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog click here.
Reported by Joe Jordan, firstname.lastname@example.org