ACLU Report: Local Law Enforcement Complaint Practices Lack Accountability

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LINCOLN, Neb.-- After receiving many individual reports of intimidation or difficulty making a complaint to a local law enforcement agency, the ACLU of Nebraska investigated the practices of the 31 largest law enforcement agencies in Nebraska. The findings were released Tuesday in a report entitled For the Good of the Public: How Nebraska Police Complaint Processes Fail the Public. The report found most agencies had complaint procedures that did not comply with expert guidelines.

“Whether witnessing an officer driving poorly or excessive force, the public should be able to easily make comments about local law enforcement without feeling intimidated,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “Unfortunately, all but one agency made it very difficult to file a complaint, and some agencies used intimidating language that could discourage someone from making a valid complaint. Without ways to report complaints, law enforcement agencies lack transparency and accountability.”

"It is very intimidating to raise your hand and say, 'I'm not comfortable about something that happened with me and a cop,'" said Miller.

The ACLU reviewed the websites of 31 law enforcement agencies and found that only eight provided information about their complaint process online. Even fewer provided a walk-through of the complaint process. Many agencies failed to provide a phone number on their website for taking complaints.

"Not only should the information be on the website, but having people come in and person is A, is intimidating, and B may not work for the average working person to be able to go down to the police department," said Miller.

A smaller number of agencies were surveyed by phone. According to the report, some agencies were unwilling to discuss complaint processes over the phone unless someone wanted to file a complaint. Other agencies required someone to come to the office in-person to file a complaint, one even requiring that the visit take place during business hours.

“While most agencies failed to meet national best practices for complaints, it is important to note that the Lincoln Police Department most closely adheres to expert guidelines.

"We're pretty open. We want to get feedback from citizens, we want to get a sense in how well we are doing our job," said Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong.

Peschong says so far the department has received over 200 complaints.

Additionally, the Bellevue Police Department was rated highly by our volunteers in the phone survey. The ACLU says more agencies should follow the examples of their peers in Lincoln and Bellevue.

In a press release the ACLU stated, "The changes we’ve proposed are easy and nearly free, such as an online complaint form that can be submitted at any time by anyone with a concern. We call for Nebraska police chiefs and sheriffs to update their complaint policies. A supervisor should want feedback on their employees, particularly when taxpayers are those being served.”