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'Transparency and accountability' in Nebraska: Next year serious police misconduct will be public

Posted at 6:19 PM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 19:27:47-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Next year, Nebraskans will be able to find a list of some troubled officers online.

Legislative Bill 51 was signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts this spring. It includes several police reform pieces, including a requirement for a public list of officers who have been decertified, have a serious misconduct on their record, or were found guilty of a felony or Class I misdemeanor.

Today, if 3 News Now Investigators requested misconduct records from Omaha Police, they would deny it under exemptions in public records law. That gives them the option to say no, but their contract with the police union forbids it in unless the officer allows it or it's appealed beyond HR.

"(Police misconduct) shouldn't be a secret," said State Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha, who introduced a bill calling for the list that was added to LB 51. "Initially there was some hesitancy, but you know, doctors report to the state. It's public, you can see it. So there's no reason for law enforcement to not have these things public as well."

The serious misconduct that must be listed is actions that "have a rational connection to the person's fitness or capacity to serve." That specifically includes fabrication of evidence, repeated excessive force, bribery, fraud, perjury and sexual assault.

Until recently, police agencies could, but didn't have to report serious misconduct to a state agency.

"Up until 51 went into effect there was no mandatory report of serious misconduct to a state agency, like us, unless the individual left employment or there were criminal charges filed," said Brenda Urbanek, the director of the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center. "So, the information hadn't been collected up until now."

The Police Standards Advisory Council will adjudicate whether or a possible incident of police misconduct should be included. Urbanek said she expects few changes in the process for handling complaints. She said she didn't know if the mandatory reporting of serious misconduct will mean that more complaints are being processed.

The list will include the officer's name, rank, agency, reason they're on the list, what the discipline was, and an affirmation signed by the chief of police or sheriff affirming the accuracy.

"One of the things that you may recall after ... George Floyd, the public learned sort of after the fact that (Derek Chauvin) had been subject to something like eighteen different sort of misconduct reports in the time of his career as a law enforcement officer," said ACLU of Nebraska Lobbyist Spike Eickholt. "And I think the LB 51 speaks to that issue."

The list will include incidents from after Jan. 1 this year and must be online before July 1, 2022. Before the end of the year, the Nebraska Crime Commission will publish a list of decertified officers through Jan. 1 this year. That list is currently only available through a public records request. The database will be published sometime in the first half of 2022.

"I'm hopeful that they'll do their job and get it online as soon as possible and not drag it out," McKinney said.

State Sen. Justin Wayne introduced a bill that would have added a similar database.

"When a police officer's integrity is compromised, it compromises the entire criminal justice system and our overall ability to pursue justice," he said.

McKinney said the list will be beneficial to police agencies hiring new officers as well as the general public.

"I think it's important for...if an officer is in violation of something or has been decertified, that other departments across the state are aware of that," he said, "so they're not allowed to just jump ship and go somewhere else and never be held accountable."

"It's important for the public to know who the good and bad officers are in the community, to create a level of transparency and accountability," McKinney said.

3 News Now also invited Omaha Police Officers Association Tony Conner to comment on this story, but he was not immediately available for comment.

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