It shouldn’t take “CSI: Omaha” to figure this out.
While the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Omaha Police Department each continues to operate its own crime lab, a single merged city-county lab would better serve taxpayers.
Now, after years of deadlock, there appears to be some hope that this cost-effective crime-fighting change can be achieved.
As World-Herald staff writer Cody Winchester reported last week, some officials are hoping that with new faces at Omaha’s City Hall, the consolidation deadlock can finally be broken. Talks between the city and county are set to resume once budgets are set. Restarting these talks, which have dragged on too long already, is a good step.
But what’s really needed is a serious commitment by both sides to reach agreement. And there’s an encouraging opportunity to build trust between the two sides, as Mayor Jean Stothert’s new chief of staff has come to Omaha city government after a career with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Merging the two operations makes perfect sense. It would eliminate duplicative services. It would require one lab building instead of two. It would require one set of crime-solving equipment instead of two. It would require one fleet of vehicles instead of two.
While a merger might not reduce the number of technicians doing the investigative work, it would allow for more efficient deployment of that staff, scheduling for vacations and days off, for example.
Taxpayers would need to hire only one set of managers, not two. If the labs contract for services, only one set of vendors would be needed.
A unified lab would help prosecutors, too. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said last year that he would much rather deal with a single crime lab and that a merger needed to happen.
As we’ve noted in past editorials, there may be some thorny issues for the two sides to navigate — such as how to govern the joint operation — but that’s no reason not to do it. Whatever parochial politics are involved, operating two labs with dual expenses for facilities and staff doesn’t square with the need for government to operate in an efficient and cost-conscious manner.
Omaha and Douglas County have successfully ironed out the details for consolidating other law enforcement functions, including the 911 center and the jail.
Merging the two crime labs would be a logical move, even if Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning did say, “We don’t necessarily have to call it a merger. People kind of cringe when they hear that.”
Go ahead, call it a merger. That might make some politicians cringe, but not the taxpayers.
Just look at the results of last November’s election, when Douglas County citizens were asked whether they wanted to consolidate the offices for the county assessor and the register of deeds. Seventy-four percent said: ”Merge.”
No, taxpayers won’t cringe. They will cheer.