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Police and advocates attribute lowered gun violence to Omaha 360 — an initiative started in 2009 by the Empowerment Network that involves nonprofits, neighborhood associations, churches and local law enforcement.
ABC News recently talked to community leaders in Omaha, Nebraska, where officials have reported a steady drop in gun violence over the past 15 years.
“It really did help to build a lot of trust between the police and the community and just amongst these various organizations,” Scott Gray, the deputy chief of the Omaha Police Department, told ABC News. “Empowerment Network is the hub, because it kind of pulls together all of these different organizations that by themselves tend to not stay connected and more effective.”
The number of reported shooting victims in Omaha, which only includes people who survived, dropped from 246 in 2009 to 121 in 2022, with the lowest at 90 victims in 2017, according to data from the Omaha Police Department.
Other cities are not only taking notice, but some are already implementing their successful strategies.
In May 2022, interim Kansas City Police Chief Joseph Mabin announced on his blog that the department had joined KC 360 and was conducting pilot programs in the Santa Fe and Oak Park neighborhoods.
According to The Kansas City Star, KC Common Good is looking to replicate Omaha’s successes through the KC 360 initiative, which takes a community-based approached to reducing gun violence, building stronger community relations with police and implementing justice reforms.
“In all of our areas, whether it’s education, violence prevention, housing, employment — we identify agencies, organizations, churches, neighborhood groups that are working in that particular area, we bring them together [and] identify what the strengths are,” said, president of the African-American Empowerment Network, Willie Barney.
A main component, according to Barney, is regularly connecting with the community and listening to input. Every Wednesday, Omaha 360 hosts an hour-long public forum with an update from law enforcement and community partners.
Attendees, usually around 80-120 people a week, go over crime statistics, specifically focusing on shootings, Barney said.
“Then we flip gears and say, ‘OK, what’s coming up over the next seven to 10 days?'” Barney said.
If there is something of concern the group is aware of, they mobilize resources preemptively to see who can respond. It could be a local church group or a violence intervention team or another group that can best help diffuse the impending situation.
The meetings are “a way to get everybody in the same room, discussing strategies weekly, with follow up items,” said Gray, the deputy police chief.
Once a month, there is a larger Empowerment Network meeting open to the public. The interconnectedness of participating organizations allows the community to distribute resources without competing for grant funding and overlapping services, Gray said. (Barney said the Empowerment Network is funded by a mix of private and public monies, including from the city and state and philanthropic donations.) “With 360, you have a moderator in the room,” he said.
“It really comes back to those poverty issues — housing, unemployment, education,” Barney said. “We really have gone upstream to address those issues, while also building better communication channels with the police department.”
With more than 500 involved entities, Omaha 360 is looking to further strengthen its reentry program and work with the state on prison reform.
“Nebraska has had starts and stops on prison reform,” Barney said. “I think everybody in the state, whether conservative or liberal or anything in between, realize that there’s more that we need to do on the reentry side.”
In recent years, Omaha 360 has worked more closely with the Nebraska legislature, Barney said, specifically state Sens. Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney.
Cities like Boston; Chicago; Kansas City, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Minneapolis and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are having preliminary conversations about what a similar program might look like for them, according to Barney.