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Tom Warren
Tom Warren. photo by Bill Stitzman

Tom Warren: From the Chiefs to the Chief

by Anthony Flott, Editor

Yes, Thomas Warren is a UNO graduate. And, yes, he deserves recognition for his career achievement, recently becoming Omaha's first-ever African-American police chief.

Really, though, should precious ink and paper be wasted on a man who, nearly a quarter of a century ago, aided and abetted a robbery on the UNO campus?

The scene of the crime was Al Caniglia Field, September 1981. And there were plenty of witnesses.

A record-12,500 fans crammed the stands that day to watch the UNO football team take on hapless Morningside. The Chiefs were the laughingstock of the NCC, last winning a conference game in 1977. Fourth-year Coach Sandy Buda, meanwhile, had a once-limping UNO running full stride, getting the Mavericks into the national playoffs in 1978 and holding the No. 1 ranking for three weeks in 1980. Things looked just as rosy when the Mavs, sporting a new wishbone offense dubbed the 'Buda Bone,' began 1981 with two wins.

But the Chiefs and the future chief broke the bone and UNO hearts, stunning UNO with a 3-0 upset.

Warren, a junior defensive back for Morningside, was key to the Chiefs' win, stripping the ball from UNO fullback Dave Soto to set up what would become the game-winning drive capped by the day's only score, a 29-yard field goal. It was one of 10 UNO fumbles that day, four of which Morningside recovered. Warren finished with five tackles, two for losses, and broke up a pass.

"I remember it vividly because all my buddies were there, and my family was here to watch," says a smiling Warren, a 1979 Omaha Technical High School graduate. "I had one of my better games."

The next time he was on campus, Warren was tackling books, not fullbacks. He graduated from Morningside in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice (major in sociology; minor in psychology) and joined the Omaha Police Department the following year. "Early on, as a young police officer, I had aspirations of becoming a sergeant," he says. "That was my goal. That was my objective."

And so he turned to UNO and one of the nation's top criminal justice programs. "In order to become a supervisor, I wanted to acquire management skills, and I felt it was very important to obtain formal education, as far as management and supervisory areas. I felt it was important to go outside the department to acquire the training and to acquire the skills."

Warren pursued a master's degree in criminal justice, also taking various publication administration courses that would prove key to his eventual move up the OPD chain of command. "When I was promoted to the rank of captain," he recalls, "I was assigned to what was then the information services section where we were responsible for monitoring our operating budget. Had I not gone to graduate school and had a course in public budgeting, I wouldn't have been familiar with the various budgeting techniques that we employed. And so that enabled me to function in that capacity."

Warren, who received his master's from UNO in 1989, spent time in a variety of OPD departments, including internal affairs, information services and the investigations bureau. His rewards have come rapidly in the past five years. He was promoted to captain in 1999 and to the northeast precinct commander in 2002. And, after scoring highest on tests, interviews and other criteria among nine candidates for the job, Warren on Dec. 3, 2003, was sworn in as Omaha's chief of police.

"It's been a learning experience," says Warren, who replaced former Chief Don Carey. "It's obviously a very demanding job. Even though I have some familiarity with the agency, just the demands of the office of the chief of police are so intense that it's taken me time to get accustomed to the work load and to the pace of the work load."

That includes making time for his family, comprised of his wife, Aileen, and their three children, ages 12, 14 and 16. It's also included some time in the spotlight, though Warren prefers it be somewhat dimmed. "He's a very modest individual," says his sister, noted Omaha lawyer and former mayoral candidate Brenda Council.

Council in May accompanied her brother to San Antonio for Warren's induction into the Boys & Girls Clubs of America Alumni Hall of Fame. Among his fellow inductees were former athletes such as NBA star Sean Elliott and Seattle Mariner-turned ESPN baseball analyst Harold Reynolds.

Warren had his own glory days on the field, of course. Just don't expect the UNO Hall of Fame to come calling.

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