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Tasers, pepperballs and guns: A look at how and when Omaha Police say they use force

With about 400 officers in the New Castle County Police Department, getting everyone continuously trained and re-trained on their Axon tasers can be expensive and time-consuming. That's where virtual reality comes in.
Posted at 6:10 PM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 19:14:00-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Use of Tasers by the Omaha Police has more than doubled since 2014. Strikes to the arm, hand, knee and leg were relatively consistent from 2014-2020, before suddenly dropping in 2021. And use of pepperball launchers has dramatically increased since 2014, though it fell again in 2021.

Those are just a few highlights of OPD's annual Use of Force Analysis Report for 2021. 3 News Now Investigators obtained a public version of the document through a public records request.

In the 2019 report, dated March 2020, the author made a recommendation that the department create a stand-alone de-escalation policy. That hasn't happened. Click here for more on that and how OPD handles de-escalation.

Despite some fluctuation in types of force, the overall number of force incidents has remained relatively consistent since 2014, which is as far back as the 2021 report goes. The lone exception is 2020, when there were 422 force incidents reported, including 114 from the height of local protests from May 29-June 1 following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police. Excluding the protest period of 2020, there was an annual average of 289 incidents since 2014.

Prior years' reports show a significant drop in force incidents after 2007, though. From nearly 800 in 2007, it dropped to less than 500 in 2009.

Fox and other members of OPD's internal Safety Review Board review each use of force incident reported, Fox said. He said the board looks over reports and video. The outcome can include remediation, he said.

Guns, of course, the most dangerous option available to police, were used nine times on people in 2021. There was also an accidental firearm discharge for the first time since 2019.

More Tasers, fewer strikes

Use of Tasers by Omaha Police has increased by 120% since 2014, according to the latest report.

Omaha Police Lt. Ken Fox, Training Commander, said the new Taser 7 is a superior weapon to its predecessor.

"We have more officers on the department now that are certified in Tasers," Fox said. "That could be a large reason why those numbers have went up."

From 2020 to 2021, arm, hand, knee and leg strikes dropped by 37% compared to the prior five year average.

Fox said more Taser use could be a reason for that. He said it removes the need for officers to go "hands-on." He said it could also be related to the department's de-escalation efforts.

"I don't think it's one thing," he said. "I think it's a lot of the things that we teach."

Who uses force

While women made up 16% of Omaha police officers in 2021, just 10% of officers involved in use of force incidents were female, according to the 2021 report.

National research shows female officers are less likely to use excessive force. That's one reason why the Bellevue Police Department joined an initiative to hire more women officers.

The 2021 report from OPD is all use of force, not necessarily excessive, though the disproportionate number of female officers involved in use of force incidents could align with research on women in law enforcement.

Force was used most often on Black subjects, 49% of incidents in 2021, according to the report. White subjects (32%) and Hispanic (13%) followed.

Pepperball launchers

Omaha Police used pepperballs fewer than 10 times a year between 2014 and 2016.

But since 2017, OPD officers have used pepperballs at least 25 times a year. 2019 and 2020 saw the most pepper ball usage, with more than 40 uses in those years, even when not counting the 2020 protests.

Fox said he isn't sure of the explanation for the increase, but said pepperballs, like Tasers, are a "great tool to use not to go hands-on."

The reports

The use of force analysis reports were available to 3 New Now only through a public records request. So, we're posting them here. The 2021 report is below, and links to others are here: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

The 2021 and 2020 reports are public versions of the internal document, without redactions. KMTV has a pending request to the department to provide the complete versions of the reports, with redaction if necessary, which may provide more context than the document provided here does.

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