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Nebraska police training, accountability measure advances

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Police Lights(Ryan Swanigan (KOLN))
Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 3:32 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Police, sheriffs and state patrol deputies in Nebraska would face greater accountability and have more yearly training, with a focus on de-escalating conflicts, under a proposal backed by lawmakers on Wednesday.

Senators gave the measure initial approval, 39-0, despite concerns from some that the requirements would be difficult for smaller law enforcement agencies to follow.

The vote came one day after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter for the death of George Floyd, an incident that sparked sometimes-violent protests nationally, including in Nebraska.

The bill would require all officers to undergo 32 hours per year of “de-escalation training” by 2023, up from the current minimum of 20. The curriculum would have to include lessons on mental health and substance abuse, communicating with people in crisis and how to spot personal biases.

Unlike current law, which requires the training in-person, officers could take the courses online while on patrol or when they have free time.

“It will increase the professionalism of our police force and raise public trust in law enforcement,” said Sen. Steve Lathrop, of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and the measure’s lead sponsor.

The bill would also create a public database of officers who have had their certifications revoked, been convicted of a felony or high-level misdemeanor, or engaged in serious misconduct. Newly hired officers who haven’t gotten state-certified would have to stay under direct supervision of field training officers and could only be employed for 16 weeks, until a state training slot becomes available.

It also would ban police chokeholds except to stop someone from being killed or seriously injured.

Lathrop and other senators crafted the bill from input they received from more than 200 people at a legislative hearing last summer, held in response to the racial injustice protests. He said his aim is to balance the concerns of police critics with those of law enforcement agencies, and several senators of different political stripes praised him for trying to find a compromise.

Sen. Tom Brewer, of Gordon, voiced concerns that the proposal puts too many mandates on the state’s smallest law enforcement agencies, but he said he’d keep working with Lathrop.

“Most of the departments are on skeleton crews because it’s hard to hire for what they pay in western Nebraska,” said Brewer, who has worked as a reserve officer in his geographically huge, rural district.

Sen. Terrell McKinney, of Omaha, called the bill “a step in the right direction” but said he’d like to see more done to stop racial profiling and keep problem cops off the street.

“When I’m driving and a cop gets behind me, I don’t feel safe,” said McKinney, one of two current state senators who is Black. “And it’s not just me, it’s a lot of people in my community.”

Sen. John Lowe, of Kearney, said he initially had concerns that the bill would prevent police officers from doing their jobs, but dropped his opposition after seeing that it focused on continuing education.

“What has happened across our country is shameful,” Lowe said.

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