Lincoln Police Chief Discusses Report Dissecting May Violence

Dec. 14, 2020, 6:40 p.m. ·

photo courtesy of the Lincoln Police Department

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This month, the Lincoln Police Department released a 35-page report detailing the nights that led up to, the events that occurred on, and what has happened since intense riots and demonstrations swept the capitol last May in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. William Padmore of NET News talked with Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister about the report. The following is a redacted version of their conversation.

(William Padmore, NET News): Why did you feel it was important to release this report, especially when other agencies such as the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office have refused to release similar reports?

(Jeff Bliemeister, Lincoln Chief of Police): Well, I really want to talk about the report that was released. So, we built on the foundational partnerships that we have with the news media. I believe that the news media is a vessel to be able to carry the message of transparency. To be able to hold accountability towards law enforcement.

And we had prepared this very detailed report to present internally because we wanted to take a deep dive into our actions, our response, our tactics.

What did we do well, and what could we have done better?

Once we had it completed, we were providing this presentation, or a version of the presentation, to policymakers beginning with the staff from the mayor's office. I wanted to be able to provide a very open, transparent summary because there were calls for that, and also, fundamentally, I believe that that is an important part to good governance.

(WP): When did it sort of occur to you that there might be some heat here (in Lincoln)?

(JB): Well, if we back up, immediately after the murder of George Floyd, we were sharing that particular video that all of us were seeing, with our training staff and our training staff was going into our recruit academy and saying, “Listen, this does not meet the mission and values of the Lincoln Police Department. “

Now we were watching as nationally there were protests, protests that had devolved into riots. Then we go to the evening of May 29th and we're seeing events that are occurring in Omaha. We’re watching, we’re monitoring, we're going about business on that Friday night.

Pretty soon we see individuals that begin to take over the intersection of 27th and O Street, and while there isn't property damage, there isn't violence, there definitely is obstruction of traffic flow on a busy Friday night. There's a traffic accident that occurs and we have staff there that are responding to assist with the medical care, to assist with the investigation itself.

And that's really when we see, the officers and sergeants that are there, they see this transition where the focus and the anger comes really directed towards the police. That lent to vandalism, that lent towards acts of aggression towards the police, arson (and) looting.

(WP): what you just highlighted there was extremely important because you described a scenario in which we go from a demonstration about one thing, to it sort of reverting into aggression against police.

(JB): In the minds and in the hearts of our staff, we’re there to respond, to assist to problem solve just like we do every other day of the year, and when the shift seemed to occur, this groupthink, some call it mob mentality, begins to take over.

And so, I'm proud of the response and the restraint that was used that night, because we have officers there who were there to help that are being injured.

We respect the rights for individuals to protest and we would do everything in our power to protect that, but then the acts of aggression took over.

(WP): The violence, of course, continued into Saturday night, and so did the demonstrations.

But I want to talk about the shooting that actually occurred. This is unprecedented territory, right? Now we're officially getting at citizens firing on the city hall, essentially?

(JB): When we first learned that investigator, who is there at our directive, trying to document what are the actions in the crowd, what are our responses, as just another way to memorialize these things and to be able to try to identify those that were doing wrong- not the ones there peacefully protesting, but it became so intermixed -and there's hundreds of people that are outside of the Hall of Justice.

And you can't hear the gunshots. You can't hear them, but we've all seen the video where the investigator sees it, responds, and scurries away. Someone tried to murder that officer.

Where are we at in the investigation?

That's why we finally publicly came forward with that video. We still need the public's assistance.

That's not the only time that that was occurring though, because after these events are occurring, we're hearing accounts where individuals within those crowds are spraying accelerants on our staff followed up by fireworks.

That's when this message, the demands for change, the demands for reform, in my mind, it gets so blended and clouded by the acts of violence.