To keep or to share a crime lab in Omaha was up for debate Wednesday at the legislature’s executive committee.
Representatives from the Omaha Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the City of Omaha all spoke to lawmakers on the pros and cons of combining crime labs into one at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Talks of combining the Omaha Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s crime labs have been in the works for a while.
“There's an opportunity to make that crime lab bigger and better and more credible to jurors,” said Mayor Jean Stothert’s chief of staff Marty Bilek.
The proposal would be to build one new state-of-the-art crime lab at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to replace OPD and Douglas County’s crime labs, something OPD and the city of Omaha is in favor of.
“You would have a one-stop crime lab in the Omaha area that would serve all of law enforcement throughout the region and it would be accredited and that's an important aspect,” said Bilek.
Douglas County chief deputy Tom Wheeler said their crime lab is working toward getting accreditation and his department doesn’t want to give up their lab.
“It's the accreditation that gives you the separation and the independence that's needed. It requires certain things that do not allow influence on a crime lab,” said Wheeler.
Wheeler said they’ve put more than $4.2 million dollars into their current lab built in 2011.
“Since that time, we've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment and training to keep the crime lab relevant and keep it current,” said Wheeler.
Another sticking point for Wheeler is that he fears if the crime lab were to move out of its current space, they would have to repay the Federal government millions used to pay for their current space with Federal fortiture dollars. Wheeler said this money comes from drug dealer dollars that was seized.
However Bilek said UNMC would give the crime lab integrity and boost public confidence.
“The best practices dictate that crime labs should be independent of law enforcement so that would give them credibility that they didn't have before,” said Bilek.
Bilek said the estimated cost of this venture could end up being $10-million dollars. Bilek stressed they do not intend to raise taxes to pay for this, those involved would try to find other funding options like TIF loans or donations since this would be built on UNMC campus.