A regional crime lab has been a hot topic in the Omaha area this week, and it would affect everybody who lives in the metro. Body cameras are becoming important to departments...but prosecutors say a regional crime lab needs to happen to get successful convictions.
Reliability, creditability, and versatility are the main principals that most local agencies testifying for a special legislative committee on Wednesday said were important for a new accredited regional crime lab in Omaha. It would be a one stop shop for blood alcohol content, and DNA testing, toxicology, and fingerprinting among other things. But prosecutors say forensic analysis of cell phones, computers, and video is the cutting edge in justified convictions.
"I think people should care because it's about them, it's about protecting them and their rights and then the victim on the other side getting the best case for the victim. So we all benefit by having the best answer we can get out of the evidence,” said Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov. "It benefits the community and the community's worried about safety."
Polikov told the committee that a crime lab that also can organize, clarify, and play body camera videos at trial needs to be involved.
The Omaha Police Department will have 100 body cameras by the end of the summer, Bellevue PD has at least one dozen, and Ralston PD will soon wear them as well. The Papillion PD, and Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office are also looking into them.
Currently, trained officers monitor and convert the video.
"Having been a police administrator to me that's kind of a diversion of resources to doing laboratory work when they should be doing police work, investigative work or police work,” Polikov explained.
Polikov says analysts could sync body cam videos from multiple officers so they're easily viewed at trial, and make them available for the prosecution and defense. A representative with the NE Attorney General's Office agreed at the special hearing.
"We're really lax when it comes to computers and digital evidence, as Mr. Polikov said. I mean, we have very few of those capabilities right now. And those things are absolutely critical to solving a lot of cases right now. The phones are gold mines, almost like DNA," said Cory O’Brien, the Criminal Prosecution Chief with the NE AG’s Office.
The special committee says there's a need for an accredited regional crime lab but how they will support it is still up in the air.