By Lauren Brant
Gov. Pete Ricketts’ office released an end-of-the-year update on the Nebraska State Patrol reform, which indicated the agency’s progress in investigations into officer misconduct, policy and procedure deficiencies, and needed legislative reforms.
Following the NSP reform release, Governor Pete Ricketts issued the following statement, “Under Col. Bolduc’s leadership, the State Patrol has already taken significant steps to improve their operations and workforce climate. The State Patrol is Nebraska’s premiere law enforcement agency. The men and women who serve in the agency are helping protect our families and communities across the state every day.”
In the report, Chief Human Resources Officer Jason Jackson outlined investigative findings and future actions for the three areas.
Regarding officer misconduct, Jackson noted an additional trooper was investigated for suspicion of misconduct, bringing the NSP officers under investigation to seven. From the internal investigations, misconduct was found for all seven officers. The report did not offer names or specific details of the findings.
Jackson also addressed the criminal investigations about two incidents where troopers used a rifle-butt use of force and a Tactical Vehicle Intervention use of force. There were concerns about inaccurate reporting in both instances, which Jackson said the NSP is addressing by revising the 803 Use of Force form. The revision will require a Lieutenant-level review to confirm the report’s accuracy. The investigation findings were submitted to the FBI and Sheridan County special prosecutor Joe Stecher for further investigation, which remains ongoing.
Other policy and procedure changes the state patrol is taking involve the internal affairs investigative process, sexual harassment, code of conduct, and ammunition controls.
Jackson said the office urged NSP to investigate dishonesty and misuse of force allegations and report any substantiated findings to the crime commission. The NSP would also have to report when an officer resigns rather than being disciplined. To incorporate substantive changes, Jackson said they would need to renegotiate the contract with the State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council (SLEBC) or have a legislative intervention. SLEBC declined to renegotiate, so the office is drafting legislative reforms for the upcoming session.
NSP has updated the sexual harassment and workplace harassment policy where all employees are expected to foster an environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect and also requires every employee to report sexual harassment. All troopers will complete training during an in-service training to ensure all employees understand their responsibilities. Victims can also report claims through a third-party hotline. The NSP also hopes to improve the policy by informing victims about the outcome of incidents and establish an enhanceable offense for repeat violators. To do so, Jackson’s office has to work with SLEBC and renegotiate the contract. SLEBC rejected the negotiations offer and did not respond to the offer for renegotiation of the sexual harassment section. The state legislature can reform the process.
The NSP is also updating the code of conduct and ammunition procedures. The new code of conduct procedure clarifies that actual or perceived conflicts of interest or relationships that affect supervision, safety, security, and morale are prohibited. The NSP’s previous policy on ammunition allowed issuance of range ammunition freely. Last May, a trooper was arrested for theft in excess of $5,000 of ammunition so the NSP has removed that policy. A new policy will require trooper accountability for ammunition issued, which will go into effect by the end of the month.
The final section of the report outlined several reforms the legislature will consider this session.
The Crime Commission oversight reform would give the commission power to acquire law enforcement agencies’ internal affairs files and personnel files rather than relying on those agencies to report misconduct. Another reform going before the legislature would make it an affirmative duty of administrators to accurately report reasons for officer separations. This reform was prompted by several years of the NSP’s failure to report officer misconduct to the Crime Commission. Jackson also proposed a reform to remove the internal affairs investigations from collective bargaining. Currently, the policy requires investigators to share evidence with officers suspected of misconduct and does not allow NSP to inform victims about the outcome and discipline. The final reform would remove the statutory obligation that barred the Attorney General’s Office from conducting the NSP criminal investigation. Another conflict of interest under the State’s Collective Bargaining Act allows sergeants to be in a Trooper’s union. Jackson argues their involvement is at odds with their duties to investigate and supervise as well as state government and other states’ practices. The issue will go before the legislature to remove sergeants from the collective bargaining unit.