Like a lot of folks I have a wary attitude when it comes to the police and I’d rather only see them when I need them but I must say that the few encounters I’ve had with them have been positive. They obviously do an important and often thankless job and it’s certainly one I wouldn’t want to do myself. The following Omaha Magazine feature from the mid-2000s profiles some distinguished Omaha Police Department officers at the time. Some of them have since moved onto new positions. I recall being impressed by these law enforcement professionals as individuals and as a group.
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in Omaha Magazine
Devotion. Desire. Duty. The men and women in uniform with the Omaha Police Department share these qualities in performing their public service mission. Each has his or her own story of what led them into law enforcement and what keeps them there. Some followed family legacies, others became the first in their family to carry the shield. Some worked different careers before coming to OPD, others joined right out of high school or college.
However they arrived at taking the oath to protect and to serve, they all regard their work in blue as a calling they can’t imagine their lives without.
Five OPD officers who’ve distinguished themselves on the job recently shared their stories. At a time when the department is still responding to last year’s sudden, massive wave of retired veterans, these five represent the current and future leadership of OPD. They are Omaha’s Dream Police.
Sgt. Anna Sewell
Dayton, Ohio native Sgt. Anna Sewell grew up an only child to a single mother who served as a volunteer neighborhood assistant officer with the Dayton police. Sewell cherished the close bonds of her small, cohesive family, whose ties she found the equivalent of in law enforcement.
“It was just something I was raised around and always knew,” she said. “Were there other options? I’m sure there were. Did I ever consider them? No.”
After high school she signed up for the law enforcement end of the Air Force. “I figured I would join the military and go see the world, and boy did I ever,” said Sewell, whose service career continues as a reservist.
The globe-trotter finally settled at Offutt Air Force Base. After giving the business world a whirl she applied with OPD, she said, “as a challenge to myself.” She passed with flying colors and joined the force in 1999. Being a cop felt right.
“We are in so many ways just like the military,” she said. “We have that brotherhood, that sense of family — territory I’m familiar with.”
About the time she entered the Omaha Police Training Academy she began accelerated studies at Bellevue University, where she made the Dean’s list and Who’s Who among college students. She graduated in 2000 with a bachelor’s in human resource management. Already the first in her family with a high school diploma she became the first with a college degree. She’s since earned a master’s in management and is now working on a second master’s in business.
The single Sewell is also an entrepreneur with her own security company.
“I’m basically breaking a whole lot of new ground in my family. In my mom’s eyes I am the example for my cousins to follow, which is fine.”
The Internal Affairs investigator reached the rank of sergeant in only six years. She learned of her promotion while in Iraq as a volunteer reserve medic.
The biracial Sewell said while her ethnicity has never been a barrier she feels she must work harder to stay competitive.
“As a minority I have to put my ethnicity and gender aside so that when you line me up I’m standing toe-to-toe right alongside everyone else,” she said. “You always have to prove yourself as a female in a predominantly male work field. It’s up to me to make sure I’m at the top of my game, that I’m not perceived as weak.”
She’s sampled many aspects of the department to prepare for her dream job. “Somewhere in my future there’s an office up on this floor that has lots of windows,” she said from the administrative suite. “It may not be top dog but it might not be too far. I’m thinking deputy chief.”
Officer Dawn Chizek
It’s easy for 24-year veteran Dawn Chizek to relate to the troubled kids she encounters as Millard South High School’s School Resource Officer (SRO). She grew up in a “pretty dysfunctional family.”
“I think the best police officers are people who’ve been a little on both sides. Empathy is probably one of the necessary requirements as a police officer. You’ve got to be able to put yourself in that situation and help effectively deal with that person and their need at that moment,” she said.
“I tell kids all the time, whatever that situation is they’re in, no matter how shitty it is, they can use it as an excuse to fail or as a reason to succeed. That’s my mantra, it truly is. It’s definitely about personal choice.”
Chizek’s hard times influenced her interest in being a cop. Why? “I think I saw a lot of injustice and unfairness in what I was dealt,” she said. Being a cop meant she could “go out and kick butt, take names and save the world.”
“All the studies say I should been a high school drop out, but I wanted more. I wanted better than the surroundings and the situation I was thrust into,” she said.
Proving herself was another thing.
“It was not easy,” she said. “You talk about three strikes against you, try being a blond, female 19-year-old recruit in 1984. But they didn’t know my story. I was much older than my years. I had a lot of real life experience.”
She jumped at the chance to be Millard South’s SRO, a job she calls “the most rewarding and fulfilling” of her career.
“This is where I live, this is where my kids go to school. I want to work in my community, where I have a stake in what happens. I want to have an impact where it means the most,” said Chizek, who’s married with two children.
Officially there to dismantle barriers between youth and police, she said she can be kids’ best buddy, but “if they cross the line they know dang well I’m going to hold them accountable. I do make arrests. Just like in the real world we spend 90 percent of our time dealing with 10 percent of the population.”
“I take very seriously my role here. I am very much in tune with what’s going on out in the community because the kids talk to me and tell me what goes on on the weekends, and what happens on the weekends carries over to school.”
Capt. Mark Martinez
Police work is a family inheritance for Mark Martinez. His father Al retired after 33 years with OPD. An uncle was a cop. His brothers Al and John are cops. Four cousins as well. Yet he said it was not a foregone conclusion he would be, too.
“I really didn’t know until I went to UNO and decided to study criminal justice,” he said.
He acknowledges this lineage in blue gave him a valuable perspective.
“My father was always community-oriented, civic-minded, always a contributor. So I think I had an idea I wanted to be a public servant, which is much more than arresting bad guys,” he said. “That attracted me.”
The South High grad only entered law enforcement after getting his degree at UNO. He was a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office crime lab technician before joining OPD in 1984. That same year he and wife Cindy got married. They have four children. “She’s the rock,” he said.
He terms his present duty as Southeast Precinct Captain “a dream job. I grew up in this precinct. I have family and friends here.” He said his “passion and ownership for the area” allows him to “get more done. I know the importance of building a relationship between the police and the community. It’s critical.”
Being a Latino in a predominantly Latino district helps.
“I think it goes a long way when the captain has a Spanish surname. I think it’s good for the people of our community. It’s good for our youth. I think I have the advantage of being able to reach out and do some things to build that bridge. I think we’re doing that.”
Martinez is proud of being a trailblazer.
“When I first came on I think the highest ranking Latino was a sergeant. I really felt the need to set some goals and to try to achieve those goals and one of them was to get promoted,” he said.
As the department’s first Latino captain consider that mission accomplished. Along the way he earned a master’s degreee. The Omaha Public School board member emphasizes school-police cooperation.
Retirement was an option last year but he stayed on for a reason.
“There’s at least one other goal I want to achieve here,” he said. “I applied to be chief and I didn’t make the final cut but I’m still in line for promotion to deputy chief. We’ll see what happens.”
Officer Jonathan Gorden
Following the footsteps of a father (Michael Gorden) who logged 30 years with OPD, Jonathan Gorden felt the pull of police duty.
“Needless to say I grew up around the badge,” he said. “It was in my blood and it never left me.”
The 24-year-old just passed his first anniversary on the job.
“If you’re signing up for the gunfights, chases and wild and crazy things, this isn’t that,” he said. “I found out real quick you’re going to make a reputation for yourself more with a pen and paper than you are anything else. No investigation, no arrest is worth anything unless you know how to write a good report. It’s absolutely crucial to every part of the judicial system.”
The Creighton Prep-Creighton University grad draws on his education every day.
He tested the waters in the business world but a cop’s life called to him. “I just knew in my heart it was something I had to try. Until I did try it I would never be satisfied.”
His dad’s experiences told him “it’s not a normal 9-to-5. It’s a lifestyle. You’re a cop 24 hours a day and you’re held to a higher standard by your employer, by your city, and because of that you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. It takes a complete commitment from your family” he said.
Every day on the job he learns something.
“The biggest thing as a young officer is learning to be patient,” he said. “I’ve picked up from the veteran officers you have to let people vent a little bit. Emotions are usually pretty high and by just listening it does wonders.”
He can attest that rookies are scrutinized.
“You’re not immediately accepted into your crew and the job,” he said. “You’re definitely watched. Little by little, day by day, your skin gets a little bit thicker, you get a little more comfortable. It is a powerful bond being with ordinary men and women doing an extraordinary job. We’re trusting each other with our lives and that’s something you hold very dearly.”
Commendations are nice, he said, but the real rewards come from proving one’s self in the line of duty.
“Having your crew believe you’re capable really builds confidence,” he said.
Gorden has designs on one day teaching at the academy like his dad. He’s also “intrigued by” the detective bureau.
Lt. Tim Carmody
Going from a broken home to successful husband, father and commander of OPD’s Emergency Response Unit, Tim Carmody is proof one can overcome challenges.
“Even those negative environments can have a positive effect if you focus in the right direction,” he said.
He feels his background gives him insights into people and their issues. Said Carmody, “It helps me understand things.”
His path to law enforcement came via retail loss prevention work, which saw him identify and apprehend shoplifters for discount chain stores.
“I’ve always felt like serving people. I don’t like people being victimized.”
He studied criminal justice at UNO and Bellevue University. He first wore the badge at 22 as a deputy sheriff with the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office. He joined OPD in 1988. It’s where he feels he’s meant to serve.
“I know the city, I’m a home grown kid. I love serving this community. I believe in this place. It’s a passion for me.”
His OPD career has been everything and more he thought it could be.
“I’ve been blessed with some of the best jobs this department has to offer.”
Today, as Emergency Response Unit commander, he oversees the SWAT, bomb response, canine explosives detection and Homeland Security teams. Much of his work involves collaborating with other agencies and disciplines. Cooperation is key. That goes for police-community relations as well.
“We can’t do this alone as a department,” he said. “Neighborhood associations, precinct committees — they are the key role players that help us understand what’s going on and what needs to be done.”
In the wake of so many OPD senior officers retiring he’s preparing young officers for future leadership roles. “I’m trying to mentor and lead people more,” he said, “and to share that knowledge to help them grow faster.” He enjoys teaching, which he’s also done away from work as a Boy Scouts Master and lay leader at his church. Faith and family are the anchors of his life.
“Spending time with my family and friends has a tremendous value in renergizing my batteries,” he said, “and in just staying grounded. It makes a huge difference.”
He needed that support after the Von Maur shooting last year. His command post was called to the scene and in the melee, he said, “everything’s on auto-pilot — you’re just functioning. Then, when I finally took a breath it all hit me, the reality of it all, and the people that died that day.”
“Those are the things that you’ll never forget.”
He calls the special fraternity he’s a part of “very fulfilling and rewarding. There’s nothing that compares to it.”
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