Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and all seven members of the City Council today announced their support for increased funding for public safety and mental health crisis response. Lincoln has been awarded a $625,000 COPS grant to mitigate gun violence, and the City's required grant match of $150,000 is included in the 2020-2021 City budget. The City is also budgeting $150,000 in additional funding for crisis response, social services, and mental health resources that work in collaboration with the Lincoln Police Department (LPD).
The City applied for the COPS grant in March. It will fund five new officers who are expected to begin their training in January. The addition of the new officers will allow for more experienced officers to focus on preventing illegal firearms sales; keeping firearms out of the hands of those who are not legally allowed to possess them; using ballistics technology to solve crimes; conducting threat assessments to prevent mass shootings; and working with community partners on gun safety and reducing gun violence.
"This grant provides us with an opportunity to develop some of the solutions that move us toward where the community wants us to be - toward greater safety and security for all residents," Mayor Gaylor Baird said. "I firmly believe that adding officers to perform these duties will enhance Lincoln's safety and well-being. This is why we applied for the grant and why we are pleased to receive it. We are proud of the Lincoln Police Department and incredibly grateful for the essential public service they provide to keep our community safe."
Mayor Gaylor Baird also acknowledged that much has changed since March, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the vital public conversation on racism, inequity, and cultural division in American society.
"We are listening, and the conversation has influenced what we believe we should do to achieve our vision to ensure a more successful, secure, and shared future for everyone in Lincoln," she said. "We want to make it clear that we do not have to choose between supporting the work of the Lincoln police and supporting the calls for equity and justice in the fullest sense. We can and must acknowledge and address uncomfortable and painful truths about what it means to be Black in America, and support our excellent police department. We must work to realize the vision of a community where people of every race and every culture feel a true sense of security and belonging."
Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said additional officers will further enhance LPD's community policing efforts. "Beyond the work to reduce firearm violence, additional staff helps create more time for LPD community engagement work that has been so important for decades here in Lincoln," he said. "Those relationships are a critical piece of how we work with a wide range of community partners to improve the quality of life for every Lincoln resident."
The Mayor was also joined at the announcement by City Council members James Michael Bowers, Roy Christensen, Richard Meginnis, Jane Raybould, Bennie Shobe, Tammy Ward, and Sändra Washington.
"As Chair of the Council, I'm really pleased to see us all here today united in support of additional police officers and support programs that help LPD and other partners provide excellent service to our community," Meginnis said.
"Public safety is our number one responsibility as City leaders," said Christensen. "Funding for additional officers helps the Lincoln Police Department deliver on its mission to promote a safe and secure community."
Washington praised the effectiveness of LPD working with community partners. "Today is another demonstration of our dedication to increasing resources for this partnership - both in personnel and programming," she said. "I'm particularly interested in exploring additional ways to connect people in need to help. We know that 24/7 crisis help is not always just a call to 911. With additional funding, I look forward to discussing how other opportunities and options could be created to connect 911 callers to help and also to offer other connection points."
Raybould cited LPD's partnership with the Mental Health Association on the REAL program, to provide de-escalation training, and a recovery model of care and support with the help of trained peer specialists. "LPD has doubled the amount of funding within this budget because they know the value of that partnership," she said. "By both adding officers and providing even more funding for more innovative programs and connections, we will continue to improve health and safety within our community."
The City Council's public hearing on the budget is Monday, August 3, and the Council is scheduled to adopt the budget August 24. More information on the City budget is available at finance.lincoln.ne.gov. More information on LPD is available at police.lincoln.ne.gov.