The Omaha City Council is scheduled to approve a contract that will allocate $5.5 million in tax funds for nearly 600 body cameras (along with 600 Tasers) to the Omaha Police Department (OPD). Axon, the company that the weapons and cameras will be purchased from, provides body camera equipment to police departments in 38 major cities including Omaha.
- What are body cameras used for? Many people think that police body cameras are used to provide more accountability for police, reduce the likelihood of police violence, and/or provide evidence that could be used to defend people who interact with the police in court. However, a 2019 research study from the journal of Criminology & Public Policy showed that “nearly all (93.0%) responding prosecutors’ offices in jurisdictions that use body cameras use them primarily to prosecute citizens,” and concludes that the cameras “have not produced dramatic changes in police behavior, for better or worse.”
- Body cameras and surveillance of protesters in Omaha – After a mass arrest of 120 peaceful protesters in Omaha on July 25th, which the ACLU has argued was illegal, Mayor Jean Stothert told local news media that a newly revised police policy will require officers to use body cameras to get pictures of each individual to arrest them at a later date as a replacement for mass arrests. “They’re going to be much more detailed with their reports now,” Mayor Stothert said in an Omaha World-Herald article on August 26. “And I think that is a real positive thing that we have learned and are making policy changes with.” Channel 3 News Now investigators asked OPD for body camera footage from an incident where it appears a protester was hit near the face with some sort of explosive coming from the direction of a line of officers. The Omaha Police Department denied that request. “Body Worn Camera and cruiser video is considered investigative in nature and is not considered public record under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 84-712(5).” Similarly, the department denied requests for use of force reports from protests, and directed 3 News Now investigators to the city attorney when they asked for more information about body camera footage. “We have exercised our right to use the exception to the public records act to withhold them from public dissemination,” said Bernard in den Bosch, deputy Omaha city attorney. There is little evidence that body cameras for OPD would be used to promote increased accountability or transparency, but rather to surveil constitutionally protected free speech and criminalize protesting in Omaha.
- Taser incidents in Omaha – In 2017, Zachery Bear Heels, a 29-year-old Rosebud Lakota man, was killed by OPD officers after they tased him 12 times and repeatedly stuck him in the head while responding to a call to remove him from a gas station on 60th and Center St. Scotty Payne, Ryan McClarty, Jennifer Strudl and Makayla Mead were initially fired after the incident and Payne and McClarty were charged with felony second-degree assault, but three of the four officers were reinstated to the police force in April 2020. More recently a 14-year-old boy was taken to a hospital in serious condition after an OPD officer deployed a Taser which became lodged in his head and required surgery to remove. Officers made the excuse that they did not know the boy’s age when they deployed the stun gun after a brief foot chase. It is clear that Tasers, which are marketed to police departments for the purpose of subduing victims, are not safe and can cause serious harm to people in custody.
The City Council Public Hearing is happening this Tuesday, September 22 at 2:00 p.m. at City Hall. Show up and let your city leadership know that funding surveillance equipment and weapons upgrades will not make our city safer, and puts residents at risk of wrongful arrests, injury and death at the hands of police.