LINCOLN — A leading civil rights organization is calling for stepped-up “anti-racial bias” training for Nebraska law enforcement officers after finding that few get extensive instruction.
The ACLU of Nebraska, in a report released Friday, said its survey of law enforcement agencies in the 12 most populous and racially diverse counties in Nebraska found that one-third of the departments do not have a legally required written anti-bias policy and that very few officers received comprehensive anti-bias training.
Rose Godinez, legal and policy counsel for the ACLU of Nebraska, said the Omaha Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office offer in-house training on state anti-bias policies but do not provide more extensive, “implicit” anti-bias training that delves into a person’s unconscious biases and is delivered by a certified trainer.
“The lack of robust anti-bias training is deeply concerning as racial disparities in traffic stops continue to increase in Nebraska,” Godinez said.
A spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Chief Deputy Tom Wheeler, said he was puzzled by any criticism of his agency. The department, he said, has required anti-bias policy refreshers every year for all deputies and just recently expanded that policy to all staff.
Also added this year was “cultural humility training” for all staff that, Wheeler said, will be provided by a certified trainer and may fit within the ACLU’s “narrow” definition of the proper training.
“The sheriff takes the issue of fairness in policing seriously and has implemented a comprehensive approach to deal with the issue of biased policing,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Omaha Police Department said the agency wanted to more fully review the ACLU report before commenting.
Godinez said Omaha police have been cooperative in the past in working on anti-bias issues. She provided a document given by the department to the ACLU that showed that all officers were given a training bulletin on anti-bias policies in 2018 and that 882 were given in-house training on unlawful discrimination.
In its report, the ACLU said clear policies and ongoing training are key to reducing incidents of racial profiling in Nebraska.
Drivers who are black were two times more likely to be stopped than white drivers in 2018, according to figures compiled by the Nebraska Crime Commission. That disparity has been rising since 2013, according to the ACLU, despite laws prohibiting racial profiling and requirements that all law enforcement agencies have written anti-bias policies.
The ACLU surveyed 23 law enforcement agencies, including the Nebraska State Patrol, via public information requests for 2017 and 2018. Those requests asked the agencies if they had written anti-bias policies and what kind of anti-bias training they provide, and how many officers participated during that period.
It found that no officers in the Omaha Police Department or Douglas County Sheriff’s Office received the “implicit” anti-bias training sought by the ACLU during 2017-18 and that only 4% of state troopers and 19% of Lincoln police had undergone that sort of training. The ACLU report said that such training delves into a person’s unconscious biases that can lead to “acting on a racial prejudice despite good intentions.”
The report called for stronger enforcement of the state law that requires law enforcement departments to have written anti-bias policies and recommended that the State Legislature consider making regular anti-bias training mandatory for all certified officers.