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Committee supports regional crime lab in Omaha

Posted at 5:06 PM, Jun 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-01 19:06:29-04

A group of Nebraska lawmakers held a hearing to determine whether or not they would support an an accredited regional forensic crime lab in Omaha.   Right now, Omaha police are relying on multiple different agencies to help process evidence.

The top law enforcement officials in the metro and the state tell a special legislative committee this morning on the campus of UNMC that they’re in need of better crime lab and DNA services.

Most that testified said it needs to be accredited, shouldn't be run by law enforcement for public trust, and able to do all lab testing at one place.

"This type of evidence is vital to hold people responsible for doing bad things and to make sure that we get it right and exonerate people who aren't involved in crimes,” said Douglas Co. Attorney Don Kleine. “That we're looking for is credibility, full service and what I mean by full service is ballistics, fingerprints, forensic DNA evidence."

Currently OPD has UNMC complete DNA testing, while the Douglas County Sheriff’s lab does their toxicology, and OPD does their own ballistics testing.

NSP has a new lab in Lincoln but OPD doesn't use it much since it can take 3 months to get results, and a violent criminal could be on the loose during that time.

The DCSO feels they have the room to house the metro lab, but senator's questioned public trust because former Douglas Co. Crime Lab Chief David Kofoed was convicted of evidence planting in 2010, and because of issues with a recent crime lab director.

"In addition to a state of the art lab, another 10,000 square feet was roughed out on the top level of the building for future expansion," said Chief Deputy Tom Wheeler with the Douglas Co. Sheriff’s Office.

"Are you aware of a cloud of suspicion over that crime lab, the Douglas County Crime Lab?” Sen. Ernie Chambers questioned.

“I'm aware of a cloud of suspicion in the past yes,” Chief Dep. Wheeler responded.

Others, including Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and Mayor Jean Stothert, say it should be at UNMC.

During an executive session the committee overwhelmingly felt they should back building an accredited regional crime lab.  They could do that by pledging money, or in a supportive role.

"Certainly all of the testimony we heard today is that UNMC has credibility, not only in the state of Nebraska but also in the region, particularly for their DNA they've done so many things well that they have a great opportunity to put together an outstanding forensic lab," said Sen. Robert Hilkemann, Chair of the LR 601 Special Committee.

One senator said during the executive session that $2 million to keep the process going in the right direction is worth it.

The special committee will now write a recommendation to the legislature, which will be discusses during the next session.