Proposed bill would create public database detailing Nebraska police misconduct


Proposed bill would create public database detailing Nebraska police misconduct

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – Calls for more transparency from law enforcement is the focus of LB601, a bill Nebraska State Sen. Terrell McKinney introduced formally Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln.

McKinney, of Omaha, said he believes opening up personnel records will hold police more accountable and in his first judiciary committee hearing since he was elected in November, he outlined a plan to do just that.

Several bills were introduced and many of them went over well with law enforcement and legislators alike. For example, a police training bill that would ban police chokeholds, increase officer training hours and mandate psychological evaluations for new hires.

But LB601 was not as well-received.

“Every other profession that holds a license is required to have things on the record that we can look up easily,” said McKinney.

He listed professions including doctors, lawyers, teachers, even firefighters who have a system that makes information about malpractice or misconduct readily available to the public. But he believes police are given broad legal protections and said they operate within an “insular culture while being resistant to change.”

His solution, “would require law enforcement agencies to maintain records regarding officer discipline and create a database for officer misconduct,” as stated during the committee meeting.

Other senators, like Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, voiced concerns of a fine line between transparency and oversharing information about infractions that aren’t criminal.

“You’re going to have a chilling effect on anyone that will want to go into that profession,” she said, further explaining that a microscope would be placed on officers and potentially create the opposite effect of the bill’s intent; even dissuading officers to fulfill their jobs in the correct manner for fear of zero room to make mistakes.

Law enforcement who opposed the bill seemed to agree.

The Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska was represented at the meeting by Wahoo Police Chief Bruce Ferrell, who serves as the organization’s second vice president. He said a database that would include every reprimand for officers takes it too far and would be misleading. Ferrell also stated the majority of officer complaints and discipline are related to conduct.

“We don’t educate what our policies are. Not necessarily what our outcomes are, but why we do what we do,” he said, explaining that if more people understood police policies and procedures, they would have the necessary context when it comes to forming opinions about the actions of law enforcement rather rushing to judgment about what things look like on the surface.

However, Ferrell did agree if an officer had a serious criminal conviction, proof of their decertification should be public. But again, he pointed to statistics that officer criminal misconduct is low and added there would need to be specific guidelines and parameters for which departmental issues or consequences would deserve to be public.

McKinney agreed there are some internal records that do not need to be shared, but any infractions having to do with police and citizens, deserve to be accessible by the public. He also maintained there is much work to be done when it comes to transparency regarding officer-community relations and firmly stood on the grounds that police should dig deeper to understand the pain that decades of mistrust have caused.

In a separate interview with 6 News, McKinney said the issue isn’t black and white and there are a lot of emotions and repairing of relationships that increased transparency could begin to fix. “We can just always take the word of Chief Schmaderer. Our communities deserve a voice,” said McKinney also stating that he by no means thinks all police aren’t doing the right thing.

During the committee meetings, McKinney pointed to examples he believed showed injustice on the part of Omaha Police.

”Events like these are only exacerbated by frustration communities endure, due to the lack of answers provided by police entities regarding how the situations were handled.”

State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha also echoed McKinney’s sentiments and added a discipline database that would work as a two-way street, implying that it’s not meant to make police look bad. Instead, it would create a communication bridge, allowing the public to understand how law enforcement agencies are running their operation and holding their own accountable.

“Yesterday in a committee that I chaired, was the first time I heard (Omaha Police) Chief (Todd) Schmaderer say that in the last eight years over 40 officers had been fired. Do you know how far that would go in my community? If they just knew that?” Wayne asked.

Senator McKinney closed his arguments by urging his colleagues to move LB601 from the committee hearings to the floor.

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Published at Sat, 06 Feb 2021 07:59:00 +0000

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