Increased law enforcement standards amended, advanced

Lawmakers amended and advanced a bill from select file May 10 that would increase certification and training standards for Nebraska law enforcement officers.

Sen. Steve Lathrop
Sen. Steve Lathrop

Under LB51, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, the current 20 hours of annual continuing education required of all officers would increase to 28 hours in 2022, and 32 hours in 2023 and subsequent years.

The bill would require a psychological evaluation of any applicant who has not worked previously in law enforcement to determine fitness for duty. Applicants seeking entry-level law enforcement certification would be required to complete de-escalation training related to mental health behaviors, substance abuse, anti-bias, implicit bias and crisis communication.

An applicant seeking certification as a law enforcement officer would be required to testify under oath that their certification has never been revoked or suspended in another jurisdiction and they have not been separated from employment or disciplined for serious misconduct or a violation of their oath of office, code of ethics or statutory duties.

LB51 also would authorize the appointment of noncertified conditional officers, pending acceptance into a formal law enforcement training program. These officers would be required to discharge their duties under the direct supervision of a field training officer and be restricted from carrying a firearm or interacting with the public until completion of their training.

A noncertified conditional officer could, only with direct supervision and guidance from a training officer, ride in a marked police cruiser, make arrests, interview suspects, victims or witnesses or carry out other law enforcement functions. The bill would place a 16-week restriction on a noncertified conditional officer’s service.

Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon expressed concern during general file debate that the creation of a noncertified conditional officer designation would eliminate the use of reserve officers in rural areas of the state.

Reserve officers function in much the same way as a volunteer fire department, he said, and can relieve the strain on less populated counties that may have just one sheriff serving all residents.

Brewer offered an amendment on select file, adopted 27-0, to clarify that the reserve officer program would be unaffected by the creation of the noncertified conditional officer designation.

Under the amendment, a reserve officer would be barred from making arrests, issuing citations, detaining members of the public or seizing evidence unless directly supervised by a physically present certified law enforcement officer.

A second amendment offered by Brewer would direct the commission to prioritize smaller law enforcement agencies when awarding grants to offset the costs of accreditation and training.

Some counties in western Nebraska have only one law enforcement officer, he said, which means required on-site training could mean a county is without law enforcement for at least a day. Brewer said the amendment not only would offset the costs of training, but also could help counties to cover absences.

The amendment was adopted 32-0.

As amended on general file, the bill also contains provisions of LB601, originally sponsored by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney.

Those provisions require the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice to post on its public website, by July 1, 2022, a list of all law enforcement officers who have — on or before Jan. 1, 2021 — voluntarily surrendered their certification or had it revoked, been convicted of or pleaded guilty or no contest to a felony or Class I misdemeanor or been found to have engaged in serious misconduct.

LB51 also would prohibit a police officer from intentionally using a chokehold on a person, except when deadly force has been authorized.

Similarly, an officer would be prohibited from using a carotid restraint control hold — a method of rendering a person unconscious by restricting blood flow by compressing the carotid arteries in the neck — on any person unless the officer believes the person would cause death or bodily injury to others or deadly force has been authorized and the officer in question has been trained on the restraint technique.

Finally, the bill would require the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice to develop accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies. Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, the commission would publish a list of unaccredited agencies annually. An unaccredited law enforcement agency would be ineligible to receive loans, grant funds or donations from the commission until it achieves accreditation.

Senators advanced LB51 to final reading by voice vote.

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