Tag Archives: police

We Can’t Drive 55

June 8, 2017 by

I have a little pinback button with a red flag emblazoned with the words “Safety First.” It was produced in 1915 by the Nebraska Safety League, which seems to have been one of a number of grassroots efforts to improve public safety.

This was in response to the nationwide development of a group called the National Council for Industrial Safety, which initially focused on workplace safety, but expanded its scope in the next few years to include traffic and home concerns (changing its name to the National Safety Council).

About that time, Omaha’s city commissioner, John J. Ryder, visited New York and discovered something called the “American Museum of Safety,” which functioned, in part, to instruct school children about street safety. He was enamored with this idea and advocated for a local version.

Both recommendations came at the end of an era of almost unbridled carnage in the streets. To read the newspapers of the era, crossing the street sometimes sounded like a game of Frogger, with pedestrians dodging carriages, streetcars, automobiles, and runaway horses. Auto fatalities had skyrocketed—a total of 54 people had died in crashes in 1900, but by 1915 nearly 7,000 Americans had been killed on the roads.

The first talk of speed limits in Omaha seems to have occurred as far back as 1903, when an automobile ordinance was proposed. There weren’t many car owners in town, and they tended to be wealthy, and tended to get their way as a result. When the ordinance suggested a low speed limit of six-to-eight miles per hour, the car owners rebelled. Included among them was Gurdon Wattles, who made his fortune in transportation. He complained that cars only went two speeds, slow and fast, and slow was too slow to be much good, and fast was too fast for the speed limit. He suggested 12 miles per hour would be satisfactory.

They got their way, but almost immediately advances in auto technology rendered this limit moot. By 1905, cars were speeding around Omaha at 40 miles per hour, and police were complaining it was nearly impossible to enforce the limit—to tell a car’s speed, police had to watch a car travel from one area to the next and count seconds, and then do some quick math. In 1909, there was even a proposal to reduce the speed limit again, back down to six miles per hour, to discourage cars driving at dangerous speeds.

Instead, the speed limit crept upward. By 1911, it was 15 miles per hour. By the 1920s, with the advent of highways built specifically for automobiles, the maximum speed jumped to 25 miles per hour. By 1935, it was 35. And in 1969, speeds on the highways leapt to 60 miles per hour.

So it has been ever since, but for a brief period in the 1970s when, in response to spiking oil prices, there was a national maximum speed limit off 55 miles per hour, which proved unpopular enough for Sammy Hagar to enjoy chart success with a song titled “I Can’t Drive 55.”

The federal limits were repealed in 1995. Currently, the maximum speed limit in Nebraska is 75 miles per hour, a speed that Gurdon Wattles probably would have enjoyed.

This article was printed in the May/June edition of 60 Plus.

Bringing it Home

August 1, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Hordes of the nation’s top triathletes will descend on Carter Lake this summer. They will compete for a national title at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships on Aug. 13-14.

Top finishers in the two-day event’s Olympic-Distance National Championship (Aug. 13) and the Sprint National Championship (Aug. 14) will be invited to join Team USA at the 2017 world championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Although the running, biking, and swimming events will revolve around Carter Lake, Omaha was the force behind the successful bid to host the event for 2016 and 2017. Triathletes will be reminded of Omaha’s national sports hub status as the running course turns around inside TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series.

Coordination and collaboration of services among the Mayor’s Office; Fire, Police, and Public Works Departments; and other city infrastructure players were vital in landing this event—USA Triathlon’s largest and longest-running national championships event—as well as other major sporting events throughout the past decade.

This triathlon is expected to bring roughly 10,000 people and an estimated $10-12 million in hotel and food sales to metro Omaha during the weekend.

Triathlon1Race Omaha, which pitched Omaha as a future host site more than two years ago (when the event was celebrating year two of its three years in Milwaukee), has been the major coordinating force behind Omaha’s bid since the beginning.

Because of past and current events, USA Triathlon—which sponsors the championship—knew the metro area could more than support an event of this caliber. Those events include the College World Series, Olympic Swimming Trials, NCAA basketball, NCAA volleyball, and the U.S. Figure
Skating Championships.

“Because we’ve successfully brought in and held big events in the past, there was no doubt we could handle an event like U.S. Age Group National Championships,” says former Race Omaha Race Director Kurt Beisch. “We have this event this year and next year, and then USA Triathlon will decide where to take it next. We just want everyone coming to town for this event to have a great experience and learn what a great community we have here.”

The cooperation of city services was only one of many incentives that lured the triathlon and other events to the metro over the past decade (or in the case of the College World Series, since 1950).

According to USA Triathlon National Events Senior Manager Brian D’Amico, there were multiple factors that went into choosing Omaha over several other cities: geographic location, accommodations, and the history of hosting successful national sporting events.

But in his and USA Triathlon’s expert opinions, there is one intangible that drew them to Omaha: the people.

“We love Omaha’s central location in the United States, which makes it easily accessible from both coasts as well as the entire country,” D’Amico says. “We love that Carter Lake (site of the event headquarters and venue for the swimming leg of the triathlon) is so close to the airport, and the city has worked so hard to welcome us.

“But what we really noticed during our site visit was how friendly and welcoming everyone in Omaha is. We love how supportive the community has always been of the College World Series, Swim Trials, and other events. They really enjoy having visitors in town, and they go out of their way to make them feel welcome. That’s something you can’t measure or control, so it’s a definite advantage.”

The two-day event is divided into two race distances—Olympic on Saturday and sprint on Sunday. These distances both feature the traditional legs of a triathlon: a swim (at Carter Lake), followed by biking, and finally, a run through Omaha’s city streets, culminating with a turn at TD Ameritrade Park before returning to Carter Lake.

The Olympic portion features a 1,500-meter open water swim, followed by a 40K bike ride with a 10K run. Sunday’s sprint version is half the distance of all three legs.

Race Omaha founder Alan Kohll says whether you have attended or participated in previous triathlons, many things will help keep spectators and fans engaged—including an expo near the event headquarters.

As a perk, Oriental Trading Co. will hand out cowbells and thunder sticks to spectators who will motivate the athletes as they traverse through the course by water, bike, and foot. There will also be 5k and 1k runs on Friday night for everyone not participating in the triathlons.

Kohll says the triathlon events will definitely carry an Omaha flavor.

“We’re not attempting to mimic what’s been done in Milwaukee or past cities that hosted this event,” Kohll says. He and Beisch are both competitive triathletes.

“We want people from other parts of the country to leave Omaha having learned more about what makes the community special—the zoo, Berkshire Hathaway, and Omaha Steaks, among many others. These are some things Omaha is known for, and we want to emphasize them.”

Visit raceomaha.com for more information.

Busting Bad Guys

April 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

It was February 2002 and Mark Langan and his partner had just shot a man dead in South Omaha. The convicted drug dealer was known to be violent and shot at Langan first, but the longtime Omaha narcotics cop was still badly shaken. Not only had he killed a man, but he was being read his Miranda Rights and would soon be facing a grand jury to defend his actions. Then, amid this tumult, he did what he says “officers are told never to do.”

“I called my wife,” he says. “I knew she’d be seeing it all on the news. I knew she’d be worried. I had to call her. I had to tell her everything would be alright.”

In Busting Bad Guys, Langan tells this gripping story with all the taut verve you expect from quality true crime. But, then, Langan, arguably with more literary finesse that one might expect from a career drug cop in Omaha, tells the rest of the story. Four years after, he and his partner were contacted by the dead man’s daughter. She wanted closure. She wanted to meet them. Langan and his partner agreed. The scene that followed at a local restaurant reads as poignant as
fine fiction.

You might know Langan now as the guy at the Nebraska Humane Society tasked with protecting the city’s animals from abuse. For 10 years, he’s been the enforcement arm for the Society—the guy who, with his close ties with law enforcement and his passion for animals, puts teeth in the Society’s mission and the city’s anti-cruelty statutes.

But, before that, Langan spent 26 years as an Omaha police officer. Sixteen of the those years were in vice and narcotics, the two areas of crime fighting that, with the homicide department, generate some of the wildest and gut-wrenching cop stories there are. “The joke was that I went from busting meth labs to chasing black labs,” Langan says.

Just as interesting as the tales of mayhem are Langan’s stories of his personal life. If you know the man only peripherally, he can come off as the stereotypical cop: Hard, jaded, forceful, and unusually self-assured. In the book, and in person, you come to know a different Langan, one who his high school counselor suggested was far too sensitive and introspective to go into law enforcement.

Langan is a contradiction. “Sometimes it’s like you’re several different people.” He’s the tough guy when tough is necessary. “There are some people I was thrilled to help send off to prison.” He became more himself, he says, when he was consoling a victim or working with non-violent criminals struggling with drug addictions.“It can be so rewarding hearing from somebody years later who got their life back together,” he says.

Then, unlike many longtime cops, he was, and remains to be, your average family guy with his wife and two children.

“My kids didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “I didn’t want to bring it home to them. In a way, this book is for them. It’s a way to tell them what I was doing all
those years.”

“Mark didn’t bring his work home—he wasn’t that stereotype of the bad cop husband you see on television,” says his wife, Annette. “He really was wonderful even through the toughest times.”

The only impact she says she saw: He was a clean freak, especially after he was involved in busting a meth house in which children were neglected and abused.

“That’s where we’d see it,” she says. “I think he dealt with what he had seen by coming home and making everything right.”

In the year since the books release, Langan has been an aggressive promoter, having done 80 signings throughout the city. He has sold more than 7,000 copies so far and plans to continue the breakneck promotional tour.

Then, when things calm down, he may try his hand at another book.

“I’m not sure what it would be,” he says. “But the response to the book has been amazing and it’s been such a wonderful experience. I enjoy writing, I enjoy telling stories. I’d hate to think this book is it.”

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In Case of An Accident…

January 25, 2013 by

Skidding, sliding, and slipping are all common this time of year. Unfortunately, that can be followed by a bump or even a crash! Auto accidents are a pain for everyone, but knowing what to do in an accident can ease some of the stress.

The first thing to do is report the accident to the police. If there are no injuries, go ahead and begin to exchange information with the other driver. Make sure to get their personal information, along with the type of vehicle, and all insurance information. The next thing to do is to determine if your vehicle is drivable. If not, the police can call a tow truck, and you should have your vehicle towed to the shop of your choice.

After the police have finished at the accident scene, if the vehicle is drivable, you will want to call the insurance company of the driver at fault. Depending upon the insurance company, they may want you to go to their “drive thru” claim place, or they may make arrangements to come to your vehicle to do an estimate. Another option is that they may want you to take it to a body shop for an estimate. The most important thing to know now is that you are the vehicle owner and no one can tell you where to have your vehicle repaired. There is no law that requires you to have your vehicle repaired where your insurance company recommends. It is always your choice.

When determining where you have your repairs done, there are some things that you may want to take into consideration. What type of warranty does the shop offer? (Whether or not your insurance has a warranty, it is the shop that is ultimately responsible for the repairs.) Also, do the technicians at the shop receive ongoing training? Is the shop involved nationally, keeping up with all the newest procedures and technologies? The best thing to do before you are involved in an accident is to do your research and know where you will take your vehicle if the unexpected happens. Making a snap decision doesn’t always lead to the best decision.

Todd Schmaderer

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

For a man who never thought he’d be a police officer, Todd Schmaderer’s career in law enforcement certainly has seen a meteoric rise. Omaha’s once interim police chief was selected from four applicants for the Chief of Police position this past August. As the new commander, he leads a force of 796 sworn officers and just over 1,000 employees total, oversees a budget of $119 million, and is responsible for the safety of the citizens living in the city’s 114 square miles.

It is a job he performs with pride. Chief Schmaderer is Omaha born and bred. A 1990 graduate of Roncalli Catholic High School, he attended Wayne State College in northeast Nebraska on a football scholarship his freshman year. He then transferred to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to prepare for a potential career in business. But while at UNO, he shifted academic gears and sought a degree in criminal justice with the original intention of pursuing the enforcement side of the IRS.

However, the allure of immediate job placement upon graduation was too enticing to pass up, and Schmaderer joined the Omaha Police Department. That was 18 years ago. Today, the man who once “walked the beat” is reaching out to community groups, other law enforcement agencies, and social services to build on the police department’s commitment to service.

One of his top priorities is a reduction in violent crime. Schmaderer seeks to emulate metro areas that have successfully addressed this pressing issue: “Police tactics need to be reflective of practices that work with other cities with similar problems.” But, he continues, Omaha’s solution cannot be an exact replica of Cincinnati’s or Boston’s approach, either; “We must tweak it to fit Omaha’s unique situation.”

He also believes that establishing a solid community-policing program will help address crime. Gone are the days of “an officer on every corner,” Schmaderer acknowledges. Social media, such as the police department’s Facebook page, can be instrumental in the exchange of information between the police and the community.

“It’s a large city and large engine, and we need to break it down into its parts to create a working plan.”

Communication with the city’s various neighborhood associations will also help Omaha police streamline its approach to crime prevention by allowing police to tailor its presence to a neighborhood’s particular need. Graffiti might be a primary concern for one neighborhood, whereas car break-ins might be uppermost on another area’s mind. Community groups are stakeholders in the problem, he asserts, and can play an integral role in crime reduction by identifying ways the police can serve them.

“It’s a large city and large engine, and we need to break it down into its parts to create a working plan,” asserts Schmaderer.

Reducing crime is also a shared responsibility with other city departments, law enforcement agencies, and nonprofit and civic social service agencies. Poverty and lack of employment are two of the root causes of crime, he firmly maintains. Social services can play a significant role in crime prevention by intervening in potential offenders’ lives before they turn to crime as “a fix” for their problems.

Schmaderer takes the helm of the police department at a time when Omaha is experiencing great growth. He believes that “long-term planning is so important to keep up with this growth” so that expansion of the police department is commensurate with city expansion. He plans to increase staffing in the department’s gang and homicide units. He also will augment personnel in the cold case squad, an indication of his commitment to “never forgetting the victim.”

As Chief, Schmaderer may not have time to teach criminal justice classes at Bellevue University as he has done since 2010. Nor will he be able to coach his two children’s athletic teams. But he will continue to etch out opportunities to go for a run, spend time with his children, and enjoy free moments with his girlfriend, a sergeant with Omaha’s police force and whom Schmaderer describes as “my best friend and strongest supporter.”

Time-consuming and complex as his job is, this is where he wants to be. “At the end of the day, I am glad if I made a difference in the community and the people who work with me.”