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City discusses $5.5 million contract for updated body cams, tasers for OPD

Many in opposition of the contract say the city is ignoring calls to invest in mental health, others say body cams hold police accountable
Posted at 10:13 PM, Sep 22, 2020

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Over the last five months, we’ve heard protesters call to defund the police, many saying the city of Omaha has a bloated police budget.

This message was heard again during the City Council meeting Tuesday where they discussed a contract to replace body cams and tasers for the Omaha Police Department.

“I oppose the ordinance to approve the purchase of new body cameras and tasers,” one resident said during the public hearing.

The five-year contract is priced at $5.5 million.

“I think anything we can do to as a community to support and encourage mental health and people actually getting the care that they need instead of surveillance control and punishment, I really think would be interesting,” Sarah Johnson said.

Johnson, an Omaha resident, says recent calls for the city to invest in mental health are ignored, adding the OPD contract would store body cam footage in a company based in Arizona.

Deputy Chief Michele Bang says storing body cam footage is expensive and the company, Evidence.com, catalogs all the film safely.

“The body worn cameras are $3.4 million of that and unfortunately a lot of that is the storage,” Bang said.

Bangs adds the current OPD equipment is outdated with contracts coming to an end.

One resident questioned why the police force should be given new tasers after Zachary Bear Heels, a 29-year-old man, died in the hands of OPD in 2017 after being tased repeatedly.

“Our brother Zachary Bear Heels was murdered by OPD, who used tasers against him 12 times,” one resident said. “He was mentally ill and off his medication. He was not a threat, he needed medical attention.”

Councilmen Ben Gray responded the opponents of the contract, stating body cams and tasers help keep police accountable.

“I intend to support this next week because in the community that I represent, I want there to be evidence when you mess over people in my community,” Gray said.

According to the Omaha Police Department, officer-involved shootings in Omaha have decreased from 11 in 2010 to one in 2019.

Councilman Gray says OPD has worked hard to lower crime, adding tasers and body cams play a role in this declining number.

“We reduced crime to such an extent that people around the country were coming to look at what this police department and the empowerment network and the community was doing,” Gray said.

Deputy Chief Bang says the current tasers are about 70% accurate, whereas the new ones will be around 90% accurate.

She says this could lead to less injuries by tasers.