Stronger scrutiny approved in police misconduct cases

Lawmakers passed a bill April 18 that eliminates certain conflicts of interest and provides accountability and transparency in Nebraska State Patrol investigations.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist32' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Laura Ebke'>Sen. Laura Ebke</a>
Sen. Laura Ebke

LB791, introduced by Crete Sen. Laura Ebke, requires law enforcement agencies to document the reason for and circumstances surrounding an officer’s separation of service from that agency. The head of that agency must then submit the report to the Nebraska Crime Commission.

Additionally, agencies will be required to submit a more detailed report to the Nebraska Crime Commission if an officer is terminated from employment or allowed to resign in lieu of termination for conduct that constitutes incompetence, neglect of duty, incapacity, dishonesty, a guilty plea to a felony charge, a felony conviction or another violation of the officer’s oath of office, code of ethics or statutory duties.

The report must include a summary of the relevant allegations and identification of any witnesses to such allegations. The law enforcement agency report must be submitted within 30 days of the employee’s termination.

A law enforcement officer terminated under such circumstances will be required to sign a waiver upon application for employment with a new agency that allows the prospective employer to contact the officer’s former agency and obtain a copy of the report detailing his or her separation from previous service.

The former employer will be required to provide the report if requested. The person designated to prepare such a report will be immune from civil liability if he or she provides the information in good faith.

Finally, the bill allows state employees to report sexual harassment directly to the state Department of Administrative Services. The investigation will be conducted either by the department or the state agency where the employee works.

The department or agency conducting the investigation will maintain the confidentiality of the reporting employee and any other person participating in such an investigation except in cases when disclosure is authorized in writing by the person or when necessary to conduct the investigation or impose discipline. Additionally, the person against whom the allegation is made will be informed of the reporting employee’s identity.

The state agency employing the reporting employee will be prohibited from retaliating or discriminating against the employee or any other person for participating in the investigation.

Nothing in the state patrol disciplinary procedures or collective bargaining agreement:
• limits the discretion of the superintendent of law enforcement and public safety from disclosing the status of an internal investigation or discipline to the Legislature, Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice or a complainant;
• limits the consideration by the state patrol of disciplinary action in a prior case that occurred within the 10 years preceding the date such progressive discipline is imposed;
• limits the misconduct for which a new disciplinary proceeding may be initiated that occurred within the two years preceding the date discipline is imposed;
• requires the release of reports and materials concerning an internal investigation of a member alleged to have committed a Class I misdemeanor, felony or an allegation involving dishonesty prior to the initial investigation interview;
• limits or restricts access of individuals conducting the internal investigation to materials regarding a member under investigation; or
• prevents, limits or restricts access by the commission to internal investigation reports or materials.

A hiring agency will have authority to subpoena records only from the Nebraska State Patrol. Law enforcement agencies will be required to retain employment records for five years after an employee’s separation from the agency.

The bill passed on a 38-2 vote.

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