By Kellyn Vuchetich
May 5, 2021
On April 20th, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts for his involvement in the death of George Floyd. The protests sparked by Floyd’s death in 2020 have demanded a new level of accountability for law enforcement. The result of Chauvin’s trial is one of the first major milestones in setting a higher standard of conduct for law enforcement officers.
The Nebraska legislature’s response to the demands for change that have intensified within the past year is LB51, a bill introduced by Senator Steve Lathrop which covers various measures of police reform. The bill addresses changes in policy regarding the use of force, duty to intervene in the case of misconduct of a fellow officer, accreditation of law enforcement agencies, continuing education of officers, and investigation of citizen complaints of misconduct. It is currently placed on Select File.
“The bill comes out of hearings that we had this summer during the middle of protests and an interim study that took place this last fall,” says Sen. Lathrop. “It is our hope that with the training requirements, we will be able to improve the professionalism and the skill level of law enforcement across the state.”
The bill sets a base level of expectations for the accreditation of individual law enforcement agencies across the state. Some larger agencies already meet or exceed many of these newly proposed requirements. For instance, according to the Lincoln Police Department Continuing Training Policy, all commissioned personnel are currently required to attend a minimum of 40 hours of training each year, 12 hours more than the statewide minimum proposed by LB51 starting January 1, 2022.
The legislation requires that a set amount of hours be dedicated to areas relating to de-escalation training, anti-bias training, and substance abuse training for both annual continuing education and initial officer certification. According to Lathrop, most if not all training of this sort can be completed through online programs. Significant funding for these changes in certification requirements comes from Senator Anna Wishart’s LB192, which appropriates $140,000 for in-person and online training for law enforcement officers to be certified through an approved accreditation agency.
The hope of LB51 supporters is that these forms of training will reduce the likelihood a law enforcement officer will need to employ force. As a more direct precaution, the bill prohibits the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints except in the case of life-threatening circumstances. Officers are also required to compose a report of the incident in which either restraint was utilized. “Chokehold and carotid artery restraints are available to a law enforcement officer essentially as a substitute for using deadly force,” explains Lathrop. “When they see a circumstance where someone is or may be seriously injured or killed if they don’t intervene then those are available, otherwise they’re not to be used.”
Agencies must also develop a policy requiring law enforcement officers to intervene when a fellow officer is engaged in the use of excessive force, as well as a policy outlining the investigation process for citizen complaints of law enforcement officer misconduct. “There are so many different circumstances that we can’t legislate [use of force],” says Lathrop. “We pretty much have to leave it to policy and then have those policies reviewed by officers as part of their continuing training.”
Should law enforcement agencies present these policies and meet other requirements of the commission by January 1, 2023, they will become officially accredited.
“I think the important thing to understand about LB51 is that the bill has the support of law enforcement, and it is responsive to the concerns of people who are involved in the many protests that took place not only across the country but here in Nebraska,” says Lathrop. “The goal of LB51 is to improve the professionalism of agencies and individual officers that are on the streets every day trying to keep us safe.”
Kellyn Vuchetich is a journalism intern with KZUM.