Originally published by Brandon McDermott, KVNO News.
Omaha, NE – A campaign called Support Blue started late last year in Omaha as a way to bring support for law enforcement together. Following the death of Omaha police officer Kerrie Orozco in May the campaign ramped up and has even seen interest in neighboring cities, like Chicago. KVNO reports on why the Support Blue campaign started and if it’s helpful in bringing people together or if it could be divisive.
The Support Blue campaign started in Omaha following the murder of two New York City police officers in December of 2014. Investigators said the execution style killings were in revenge of the Eric Garner death at the hands of NYC police earlier in the year.
The Support Blue campaign (#SupportBlue) was started by First Responders Foundation and spearheaded by Bridget Fitzpatrick to show support for law enforcement. Fitzpatrick is the social media coordinator for the Omaha Police Department. The civil unrest around the country in 2014 stemming from shooting deaths of unarmed citizens also played into the formation of #SupportBlue, according to Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick and the First Responders Foundation asked local businesses to put up ‘Support Blue’ stickers in their store fronts and had people take pictures with police to post to social media, to increase awareness of how important law enforcement is in our community.
“What can we do for our law enforcement community to help this? And we know that the majority of people do support the police,” Fitzpatrick says. ”But they’re just quiet. So, we wanted to come up with a way where people could publicly show their support of police.”
Fitzpatrick says the tragic shooting death of Officer Kerrie Orozco in May of this year helped bring the Omaha community together.
“During that time when we saw all those people with #SupportBlue signs, #SupportBlue shirts. It gave the community a way to grieve together. But it was also a way to show their support together.”
John Crank is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Crank says the death of Officer Orozco sent a shock-wave throughout Omaha.
“That was a rough thing to go through and it hurt the community and generated a lot of pain,” Crank says.
He says organizers of #SupportBlue are reaching out to an existing community to strengthen binds, so to speak.
“They are very supportive of the Police, supporters are very loyal. They tend to be people that come from military backgrounds, police backgrounds and fire backgrounds or other public service backgrounds. And they will gather around when they feel like police are threatened.”
But this week James Comey, the Director of the FBI, said the #BlackLivesMatter movement and also pro-law enforcement campaigns cause further division between the police and the communities in which they serve. He said this is because they can be misunderstood. Comey said in a speech to students at the University of Chicago Law School that “I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says police have become ‘fetal’ adding: “They have pulled back from the ability to interdict … they don’t want to be a news story themselves, they don’t want their career ended early, and it’s having an impact.”
John Crank says most police officers misjudge how they are viewed.
“They don’t think people like them generally. I’ve done a number of these surveys. I’ve given the same survey to citizens and police. Police consistently have a lower or estimation of what citizens think of them than they (citizens) actually do.”
Crank says we all know police officers are there to serve and protect; to provide security for citizens and thereby improving the quality of life. But is a push to further display supporting the police causing a division in Omaha? Fitzpatrick doesn’t think so.
“It’s respect. I liken it to when the Vietnam, when soldiers came back and people spit on them, threw tomatoes at them and protested against them. Well now it’s the same thing only – they’re killing them.”
Professor Crank said police deaths have slowly declined since 2001 when 242 officers died in the line of duty. In 2005 that figure dropped to 166 and this year there have been 103 police deaths through October 29.
While #SupportBlue is rallying people already prone to support law enforcement, officers know the real way to make a change is by meeting and having a relationship with the people they protect.
Events like last week’s OPD sponsored ‘Cops and Bobbers’ event at Benson Park in Omaha, play an important role in that relationship. Police officers helped show kids from 5-17 how to fish first hand and offered a free lunch. It’s a small step, Crank says, but it lets people in the community know it’s okay to support the men and women in Blue.