A key issue for my campaign is to maintain public safety. That can mean different things to different Nebraskans. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll define the primary goal of public safety as preventing danger and protecting the wellbeing of citizens, communities, and organizations.
It’s clear that many Nebraska law enforcement agencies are facing increased scrutiny by the public. This is a challenge that area law enforcement agencies are willing to address as they continue to support public policing programming, community mental health needs, and partnering with other organizations and private businesses to better serve their communities.
Law Enforcement Training and LB51
With that said, there is a public safety issue affecting rural Nebraska we need to get under control before it festers and becomes hard to manage in the future. That problem is limited staffing at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center (NLETC) in Grand Island. The passing of LB51 has created unintended consequences on this already stressed facility.
LB51 increased standards for the certification of law enforcement officers, streamlining the certification process, requiring training in de-escalation techniques, and requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies about the use of excessive force and the duty to intervene. These are positive steps that I voted for because we need to make sure that law enforcement has every tool available to serve Nebraskans.
LB51 creates problems for the NLETC regarding how instructors and staff go about their business at the facility. We need to take a longer look at just what those unintended consequences are going to be if we are not proactive now.
The NLETC is where most of our state’s law enforcement officers are trained and certified. Multiple issues have arisen in the last few years over the way NLETC is staffed and funded by the Nebraska Crime Commission.
Recruit training availability has long been an issue. The ability to enroll recruits is hampered by limits on the number of people who can be in any one class compared to actual demand. Usually, the demand for a class is around 75 attendees and there are only about 50 spots available per basic training session. These sessions only occur three times a year. NLETC staffing shortages are so bad that they often ask for volunteer instructors to assist.
The NLETC operates on a curriculum of approximately 640 hours rolled into 15 weeks of training. Three sessions are held annually. Generally, these sessions are three hours a day from January to April for the first session, May to mid-August for the second session and late August to mid-December for the third session. There are also smaller training sessions that deal with timely subjects throughout the year.
These new training requirements are likely going to add to a backlog that has already been steadily growing over at least the last seven years. When the agency is limited in how many people they can send through any one session, it creates a training waitlist for every single period throughout the year.
The shortage of trainers and funding is causing the center to be unable to meet the demands of law enforcement agencies throughout the state. This creates an ongoing public safety issue for many Nebraska communities.
Why Should The Governor Be Involved?
You may be asking yourself why the governor should be involved with this rather than our unicameral. Good question. The Governor’s Crime Control Commission was created by executive order in 1967. The name was changed several years later to the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. In 1969, legislation was passed to establish the Crime Commission as an agency of the state government. You can learn more in Nebraska state statute about this agency starting with 81-1415 and reading each page to 81-1429.02. The NLETC is governed by the Police Standards Advisory Council, a committee of the Nebraska Crime Commission.
What’s concerning is that the Crime Commission can ask for more funds in their budgets, but in the past, they haven’t. It’s important for our governor to investigate why complaints seem to be going unaddressed from those who are currently working at the facility and those who have left out of frustration. We need to take a proactive approach before it becomes an unmanageable issue like we are currently experiencing with staffing at Nebraska’s prisons.
It’s clear that Nebraskans expect our law enforcement to not only be adequately staffed but also well-trained. Adequate training equals safer communities and better decisions by our law enforcement professionals when it comes to making hard decisions on the streets. Proper training also helps law enforcement agencies maintain a strong retention rate. As more experienced officers continue to age out and retire, maintaining good retention rates is paramount.
Sarpy County realized these concerns needed to be addressed and so area municipalities and counties started their own training center with Douglas County. The demand for recruits was too high and couldn’t be met at the NLETC. The separate training center costs each entity $35,000. I’m proud of these communities for seeking a solution but they have a unique situation where municipalities adjoin each other. They don’t have to travel for hours to go to the training. Rural Nebraska doesn’t have that benefit.
Opportunities for a Solution
There are multiple training centers in Nebraska including the State Patrol, Lincoln Police, and the Omaha Police. The rest of our state must depend on the Grand Island facility.
We need to revisit policy and decide how we can get our recruits trained in a timely manner and out on the streets. Solutions such as having center staff travel to rural Nebraska for training modules or expanding online training are some of the simplest options. A deep dive needs to be taken into the funding and training of this facility. Many former employees of the NLETC say the focus in training is on tactics and skills. There is no current real-world training on emphasizing de-escalation and community mental health needs. We can do better and it’s time we give Nebraska’s law enforcement the training and support they need to be successful.