OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Last year, we told you about a new law in Nebraska that on its face would have made some misconduct incidents by active Nebraska law enforcement public.
But it will only include decertifed officers. Here’s why we thought it might include active law enforcement: The law, part of the wide-ranging policing bill LB 51, said the list would include law enforcement that lost their certification, been convicted of a felony or Class I misdemeanor, or been found to have serious misconduct when adjudicated by the Police Standards Advisory Council.
But after it rolled out, things became clearer: The list is simply officers who have been decertified. Don Arp, executive director of the Nebraska Crime Commission, explained the other two categories – convictions and serious misconduct – would result in an officer losing their certification, too.
In other words, though serious misconduct is listed separately from decertified officers for reasons to be included on the list, just decertifed officers will make the list.
'No reason not to pursue decertification'
Arp said he understands the confusion.
“My perspective would be that if you have an officer who's engaged in serious misconduct, you have the grounds for a decertification,” Arp said. “So there'd be no reason not to pursue the decertification.”
Although both decertified officers and serious misconduct are listed as reasons to be put on the public list, serious misconduct is also listed as grounds for decertification in law.
'Doing all it can to not be stewards of transparency'
Omaha State Sen. Terrell McKinney said he expected the list to be longer and include active officers. He said he “probably” has to “reintroduce something to strengthen it to make sure they do what I thought they were supposed to.”
McKinney introduced a bill in 2021 that called for a public misconduct list and parts of that bill were put in LB 51.
McKinney says a more comprehensive list could help build trust in policing.
If active police were on the list, McKinney said, if someone encountered an officer, they could later look the officer up on the list. "And they don't see (the officer)," he said, "and now maybe the next time you interact with that individual, it's a better interaction and it's not tense."
"This is another example of the police law enforcement system doing all it can to not be stewards of transparency," he said. "And I think it needs to change."
'Interesting limitation' but 'an important first step in police accountability.'
University of Nebraska Omaha Criminology Professor Jessie Huff said it's an "interesting limitation" of the list to only include decertified officers.
"There is a clause that suggests that serious misconduct should be in this list as well," she explained. "However, my reading of that current provision is that it really is kind of limited to officers having that certification revoked."
Huff explained, then, it wouldn't have any impact on hiring agencies in Nebraska looking to avoid officers with prior misconduct, because everyone on the list would have been decertifed anyway. She said it could help out-of-state agencies, though.
Arp said that aspiring officers are required to sign a waiver to access prior misconduct records before being hired at another agency, so hiring agencies would already have that information.
Despite the limitation, Huff said the public list is "an important first step in police accountability."
Before the public list, the information was accessible, but someone would've needed to use Nebraska's public records law by writing to an official.
"There aren't a lot of states that have publicly available information like this that provide this much detail," she said.
Each decertified officer listed is accompanied by a form with an agency head's signature attesting to some details of the relevant incident.
No statuatory grounding
The part of state statute establishing the list says "upon adjudication by the council, been found to have engaged in serious misconduct."
But Arp said that the Police Standards Adisory Council could not adjudicate a law enforcement officer of serious misconduct without decertifying that officer."
"There really wouldn't be a statutory grounding for another adjudication process for the council," he said, "because the only adjudication process it has under its authority is the decertification." That part of state statute is here.
LB 51 also introduced mandatory reporting of misconduct, Arp said. That's more broad than "serious misconduct."
There is some discretion left to agencies, though, if the misconduct needs to be reported. Arp said the miscondcut would need to be "more than than...a simple policy or practice violation...Showing up late for work wouldn't be reported."
In our most recent report on this list, UNO Criminology Professor Justin Nix said he wished the website was more user friendly. Arp said he reached out to Nix and improvements were made. active