Law enforcement reciprocity program amended, advanced

A bill intended to streamline the reciprocity process for law enforcement officers to become certified in Nebraska advanced from select file March 23.

Sen. Steve Lathrop
Sen. Steve Lathrop

LB1241, introduced by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, would make a number of changes to the state’s current law enforcement reciprocity program. Among other provisions, the bill would change the reciprocity process for law enforcement officers certified in another state.

A person seeking certification under the reciprocity process would not be allowed to exercise law enforcement authority until all requirements have been met, however they could serve as a non-certified conditional officer under the bill.

LB1241 would require that a reciprocity test be offered at least once a month and would redefine a training academy as any facility operated by multiple agencies that offers certification training. Additionally, the bill would remove a requirement that a law enforcement officer complete continuing education in the year of their retirement.

“[This bill] allows someone who is coming from out of state a swifter process to be certified as a law enforcement officer in Nebraska,” Lathrop said.

Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements offered an amendment during select file debate, adopted 42-0, that incorporated provisions of his LB1270 that would offer retention payments and hiring bonuses to law enforcement officers.

Tier one would provide a payment of $750 to officers in police departments with over 75 officers and $1,500 to officers in departments with fewer than 75 officers who have completed one year of full-time service. Tier two would provide a $2,500 bonus to officers in small departments for three years of full-time service and tier three would provide $5,000 to officers who have completed five years of full-time service.

Additionally, the amendment would allow a law enforcement agency to apply for a grant to distribute hiring bonuses to newly hired full-time officers. Departments with fewer than 150 officers that currently are not at the recommended level of staffing as determined by the Nebraska Police Standards Advisory Council would be eligible for the funding.

The amendment states legislative intent to appropriate $5 million each fiscal year to implement its provisions. The payment program would take effect July 1, 2022, and terminate June 20, 2028.

Clements said the payments would assist law enforcement agencies in their attempts to recruit and retain law enforcement officers.

“Law enforcement agencies across Nebraska have seen a noticeable drop in applications to become law enforcement officers,” Clements said.

Omaha Sen. Robert Hilkemann spoke in support of the underlying bill and the Clements amendment. The best public safety strategy is the physical presence of law enforcement authority, he said.

“Most law enforcement agencies — from the sheriff to the state — lost up to 20 percent of their officers because of declining funds and they have not been replaced,” Hilkemann said. “This bill is going to be helpful in retaining officers and recruiting new officers for their replacement.”

Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha brought an amendment to the Clements amendment to specify that a law enforcement officer would not be eligible for tier retention incentive payments if convicted of a felony or a Class I misdemeanor or if their certification has been revoked.

An officer who has been found to have engaged in serious misconduct or been allowed to resign instead of being terminated from employment also would be ineligible.

“If we’re recruiting officers and trying to retain them and there’s bonuses being handed out, then we need to make sure individuals receiving these bonuses are the model officers in our communities,” McKinney said.

Following the 41-0 adoption of the McKinney amendment, senators advanced LB1241 to final reading on a voice vote.

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