The Politics of Police Reform and Racial Justice in Omaha, Nebraska

As the largest city in the state of Nebraska, Omaha is a hub of political activity and a focal point for discussions on issues of police reform and racial justice. With a population of over 400,000 people, the city is home to a diverse community that has been grappling with these issues for decades.

The History of Police Reform in Omaha

Omaha has a long history of tension between law enforcement and communities of color. In the 1960s, the city was rocked by riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

These riots were sparked by years of racial discrimination and police brutality against Black residents. Since then, there have been numerous efforts to address these issues and reform the police department. In 2007, the Omaha Police Department (OPD) implemented a community policing program aimed at building trust between officers and residents. However, this program was met with criticism and was eventually discontinued. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of police brutality in Omaha, including the death of Zachary Bearheels, a Native American man who died after being repeatedly tased by officers. These incidents have sparked renewed calls for police reform and racial justice in the city.

The Role of Politics in Police Reform

Politics play a significant role in shaping the conversation around police reform and racial justice in Omaha.

The city is divided into seven city council districts, each represented by a council member who is elected by residents. The mayor is also elected by popular vote. In 2021, Mayor Jean Stothert was re-elected for her third term. During her campaign, she faced criticism for her handling of police reform and her lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. However, she ultimately won the election with a majority of the vote. The city council also plays a crucial role in shaping policies related to police reform.

In 2020, the council passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis and calling for an end to police brutality. This resolution was met with both support and criticism from residents.

The Current State of Police Reform in Omaha

Despite ongoing efforts, many residents feel that not enough has been done to address issues of police reform and racial justice in Omaha. In 2020, the city's police union negotiated a new contract with the city that included provisions protecting officers from disciplinary action for misconduct. This contract was met with backlash from community activists and civil rights groups who argued that it hindered efforts for accountability and transparency within the police department. In response, the city council passed an ordinance requiring the police chief to report any instances of officer misconduct to the council. However, there are still concerns about the lack of diversity within the police department.

According to data from 2020, only 7% of OPD officers are Black, despite Black residents making up over 13% of the city's population.

The Future of Police Reform in Omaha

As discussions on police reform and racial justice continue in Omaha, there are several initiatives and proposals being put forth by community leaders and activists. One such proposal is for the creation of a civilian oversight board that would have the power to investigate complaints against officers and make recommendations for disciplinary action. There are also ongoing efforts to increase diversity within the police department through recruitment and training programs aimed at attracting more officers from underrepresented communities. Additionally, there have been calls for increased transparency and accountability within the police department, including implementing body cameras for all officers and creating a public database of officer misconduct.

The Importance of Community Involvement

One of the key factors in successfully implementing police reform and promoting racial justice in Omaha is community involvement. Residents have been actively participating in protests, town hall meetings, and other events to voice their concerns and demand change. Community organizations, such as the Omaha NAACP and Black Men United, have also been instrumental in advocating for police reform and working towards racial justice in the city.


The issues of police reform and racial justice are complex and multifaceted, and there is no easy solution. However, it is clear that politics play a significant role in shaping the conversation and policies surrounding these issues in Omaha. As the city continues to grapple with these challenges, it is crucial for community members, activists, and political leaders to work together towards meaningful and lasting change.

Only through collaboration and open dialogue can Omaha truly address issues of police reform and racial justice for the betterment of all its residents.

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