A legislative bill would require annual anti-bias training for all Nebraska law enforcement members in an effort to prevent racial profiling.
LB 924, proposed by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, would require all law enforcement officers in Nebraska to complete two hours of anti-bias training a year. The requirement would be in addition to the 20 hours of continuing education a year already required of law enforcement.
During floor debate on Feb. 12, Chambers said the bill is what he calls a “pewee bill.”
“It is one that I think should have no problem being accepted by the Legislature,” he said.
The bill was placed on final reading before the Legislature session was suspended due to COVID-19, meaning it will be read one last time before the Legislature and then voted on whether or not it will go to the governor. No senators opposed the bill, and it unanimously passed its most recent vote on Feb. 12.
While the bill was introduced in January, Chambers said active support for the bill has grown with the national focus on racial equity following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Chambers said the bill would take away the excuse that law enforcement officers aren’t aware of their implicit biases or that they don’t have any.
“Every one of these persons who is a law enforcement individual knows how he or she would want to be treated, how he or she would want his or her family members to be treated,” he said.
“And when they take that oath to enforce the law fairly, then extend the same type of fair treatment to everybody that they come in contact with.”
The bill would also enforce the requirement of anti-bias training by preventing agencies that haven’t completed the training from receiving funding from the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement.
Rose Godinez, legal counsel for the Nebraska ACLU, testified in support of the bill at its judiciary hearing on Jan. 31. At the hearing, she said the bill would help address the continued problem of racial profiling in the state.
“Racial disparities exist in traffic stops, year after year, and we have not taken any action to curb and lower those disparities until now,” Godinez said.
The ACLU released a report titled Equality Before the Stop in August 2019 that showed that 11 out of 21, or 52%, of the law enforcement agencies who responded to the survey had an employee participate in anti-bias training over a 2 year period. Of those 11 agencies, about 6% of their employees attended an anti-bias training.
The Nebraska Crime Commission’s 2019 Traffic Stops in Nebraska report showed that Black people continue to be overrepresented in traffic stops in the state. Dividing the proportion of traffic stops of Black people by the proportion of Black people in the population resulted in a disparity index of 1.89 for 2019, according to the report. Equal representation would result in an index of 1.
The Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center trains all officers outside of the Nebraska State Patrol, the Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department. The center currently incorporates anti-bias training into its basic training for incoming officers, according to director Brenda Urbanek.
The ACLU’s report, however, stated that training officers once on the issue is not enough.
Dewayne Mays, president of the Lincoln NAACP, said for many law enforcement officers who come from very white areas, their only interaction with people of color is through the judiciary system.
“If that’s the only interaction you’ve had, then that’s unfortunate because you have a very biased opinion,” he said. “Having that type of training can make them much more conscious of people who may be different from them.”
Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha also said he thinks anti-bias training is necessary and acknowledged its connection to the current national climate on racism.
“Especially with what’s going on nationally, I just think there needs to be cultural awareness and sensitivity training when dealing with the diverse groups that we deal with in Omaha and across the state,” he said.
Godinez said she was happy to see a piece of legislation arise from the ACLU’s findings and hopes to see it pass.
“It’s incredible to see that there’s going to be an actual piece of legislation directly targeting the racial disparities in traffic stops, one that hasn’t been updated in a very long time,” she said. “We are grateful to Sen. Chambers, and we hope that Gov. Ricketts goes ahead and signs it.”