Controversial swap of police gear pulled from Omaha City Council agenda amid complaint

Nebraskans Against Gun Violence says exchange was a bad idea, and a bad deal for city

By: - July 18, 2022 1:44 pm

Omaha Police Headquarters (Cate Folsom/Nebraska Examiner)

 LINCOLN — A controversial swap of police gear was pulled from the Omaha City Council agenda for Tuesday after an anti-gun violence group objected to the proposed trade with a local gun shop, 88 Tactical.

Just when or if the proposed trade might be reconsidered wasn’t immediately clear.

todd schmaderer
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer (Courtesy of the Omaha Police Department)

Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer had proposed to swap 28 expired Team Wendy helmets and 28 Armor Express rifle plates (to bolster protection of armored vests) with 88 Tactical in exchange for 20 Coyote AR magazines, 60 Glock 17 magazines and 30 orange Glock base plates. 

Melody Vaccaro of the gun control group Nebraskans Against Gun Violence said Monday that “the private market” is a bad place for expired police and military gear and that the swap is a bad deal for the city.

Vaccaro estimated that the city would be giving $11,000 worth of military gear for about $2,550 worth of ammunition and accessories. A website for Team Wendy products listed the helmets as costing between $325 and $1,584 new.

 “In a time where people aren’t feeling safe, where a toddler can be orphaned at 4th of July parade and 4th graders die surrounded by police too afraid to come and save them, we are asking the city council to pause on this trade and find a different solution to retire unneeded military supplies,” Vaccaro wrote in a press release.

She said the best solution would be to destroy the unneeded riot helmets and rifle plates.

A spokesman for the Omaha Police Department said just after the noon hour Monday that the issue had been tabled. Omaha Police Lt. Neal Bonacci said he did not know when or if the issue would come back to the Council.

In a response to questions from the Nebraska Examiner, Deputy Police Chief Scott Gray said that such a swap of equipment was not unusual, as the department seeks to obtain new gear in exchange for expired equipment.

“We have done this with old weapons and brass casings from ammunition,” Gray said. “Vests and helmets are never auctioned off since they are expired.”

While vests and helmets are typically destroyed — which is what the anti-gun violence group sought — in this case, they were offered in exchange with two companies. Gray said that 88 Tactical offered the most equipment in exchange.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, is shown here in her official portrait. (Courtesy of the City of Omaha Mayor’s Office)

The swap, which was approved by the police chief, Mayor Jean Stothert and City Finance Director Steve Curtiss, was on the “consent agenda” portion of the council’s business for Tuesday’s meeting. 

The consent agenda is used for routine, noncontroversial items and can be approved in one vote, as opposed to city ordinances, which are approved over three meetings. The city clerk decides what can be placed on the consent agenda, but any council member can ask to remove an issue from it.

In this case, the police department asked to table the equipment swap.

Vaccaro, as well as Seeing Red Nebraska, a left-leaning news site, have charged that 88 Tactical has a “Nazi brand” because “88” is a numerical code recognized by white supremacists for “Hitler.”

The owner of 88 Tactical has denied that on social media, saying that “88” was chosen for the business because it is code for “situation secure” at the Omaha Police Department.

The business has some ties to the Omaha police. In 2019, the president of the Omaha Police Officers Association posted a series of chats with a 88 Tactical official about responsible concealed carry.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.