This Saturday, November 16th, is judgment day for the Omaha Police Department.

That is when Omaha police officials will sit before a team of commissioners from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) to answer questions and learn the Police Department’s fate in its quest to achieve a fifth consecutive CALEA accreditation award.

The hearing, which will take place at CALEA’s fall conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, will provide the team of three commissioners with an opportunity to question Omaha police officials about any concerns they have regarding Omaha police operations. Questions asked during the hearing will likely relate to any issues raised in a report authored by an accreditation onsite assessment team that visited Omaha from August 11th through 16th. During past hearings, commissioners’ questions have also stemmed from issues the Police Department self-reported in mandatory annual progress reports.

The Police Department has reported numerous high-profile incidents to CALEA since its 2010 accreditation assessment. Those incidents included allegations of an evidence-planting scheme reported in 2010, excessive force accusations in 2011 following an incident in which police officers used force against Robert Wagoner at Creighton University Medical Center, and a March 2013 incident at 33rd and Seward that resulted in four police officers being fired and two officers being criminally charged.

The Commission has indicated that it may also have concerns over the high rate of turnover experienced in Omaha Police Department command positions in recent years.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the three CALEA commissioners will make a recommendation to the full 21-member Commission advocating approval or denial of Omaha’s reaccreditation bid. The full Commission will then vote to approve or deny that recommendation.

If awarded, Omaha’s accredited status will be valid for three years, from 2013 to 2016.

The CALEA accreditation process, which costs the Police Department $5,765 annually in addition to significant numbers of man hours needed to compile documents and draft reports, was created in 1979 through the collaborative efforts of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA) and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). According to CALEA, the organization was created to institute a set of professional law enforcement standards and to produce an accreditation process that examines agencies’ adherence to those standards.

The Omaha Police Department first achieved accredited status in 2001 at the urging of then-Mayor Hal Daub, and under the direction of then-Chief of Police Donald Carey. Omaha achieved reaccreditation in 2004, 2007 and 2010.

Shortly after the department’s initial accreditation award was granted in March of 2001, Chief of Police Carey, who had led two other departments to initial accreditation before he arrived in Omaha, explained the benefits of accreditation.

“In one agency,” he wrote, “accreditation…led to increased diversity in the police workforce…In another, auditing and inspection requirements prevented major disruptions in the property and evidence function. In my current position (Omaha Police Department), police pursuit evaluations have led to a dramatic reduction of the number of vehicular pursuits and the savings of untold thousands of dollars in police cruiser repairs or replacement.”

According to CALEA, law enforcement accreditation provides “greater accountability within the agency, reduced risk and liability exposure, stronger defense against civil lawsuits, staunch support from government officials, and increased community advocacy.”

Omaha police employees began working toward the current reaccreditation bid shortly after returning from the agency’s last accreditation award hearing in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2010. The agency’s research and planning unit, managed by Captain Diana Kelly, maintained the agency’s compliance with CALEA standards and kept up-to-date documentation to prove agency compliance with those standards.

To gauge the Police Department’s progress toward reaccreditation, the agency held a mock accreditation onsite assessment in late 2012. Employees from the Lincoln Police Department, Papillion Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office visited Omaha’s downtown police headquarters over three days, where they reviewed files and interviewed police employees. They then reported their findings to Omaha’s accreditation team and the chief of police.

The official CALEA onsite assessment was originally scheduled to take place in April of this year, but the department requested and CALEA granted a hardship extension due to a serious illness experienced by a key member of the agency’s accreditation team. 

At the conclusion of the hardship extension, CALEA sent an onsite assessment team – which included Chief of Police Paul Verrecchia from the College of Charleston (SC) Police Department and Lieutenant Chad Gann from the Arlington (TX) Police Department – to Omaha on August 11th to gauge the Department’s compliance with applicable standards. Over the next four days, the assessors reviewed files, toured agency facilities, interviewed employees, explored the city from above in a police helicopter, and held a public hearing and public phone-in session.

Their final report was due to the full Commission in October. 

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