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Community Group Misses Police Auditor Funding

{A href="mailto:myouker@kptm.com"}Meghan Youker

OMAHA (KPTM) - Omaha hasn't had one since 2006 and it won't have one in 2010. Money for a public safety auditor didn't survive the city council, as members work to balance next year's budget.

Mayor Jim Suttle originally included funding for an independent police auditor in his proposed budget, but just like in years past, it was eliminated as council members looked for ways to save money. It's just one budget issue drawing the attention of the non-partisan group, Omaha Together One Community.

Standing in front of Elmwood Park pool, leaders of OTOC stress the importance of a public safety auditor in creating a safe and secure city. "Our city needs a police auditor," said Rev. Michael Williams of Risen Son Baptist Church. "When people mistrust the police, they are less likely to report crime and therefore we are all less safe."

During a tough budget year, it came as no surprise when funding for the controversial position was cut. "If you don't keep talking about it, it's going to go away," said Deb Romberger of First United Methodist Church. "What we hear in our communities and in our churches, is that that kind of position is really important so that people can feel like they have a voice."

The Omaha Police Department has an internal process for investigating citizen complaints, though Interim Chief Alex Hayes says the department isn't opposed to unbiased, outside oversight.

He admits it could improve community relations and trust in police work. "It's not that it's not important. It is very important. It is very important for us to look at that and keep that in mind and keep that in focus, but it's also vitally important for us to be able to function and operate on a day to day basis," Hayes said.

That means funding for new police cruisers, money Mayor Suttle restored with a veto on Thursday.

Suttle also eliminated the council's furlough plan for city workers, a move OTOC supports. "It is dangerous for our community. It's a hindrance to the services that we vitally need," said Fr. Jason Emerson of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection.

The council will meet Tuesday to discuss the mayor's vetoes. Because of a lack of votes to override, it appears the end result will be an even bigger property tax hike, though some members have worked hard to oppose any increase because of the recession.

OTOC meanwhile is shifting its police auditor focus to 2011. The group and Interim Chief Hayes have pledged to work together even without the position to improve community and police relations.

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