Nebraska State Patrol probe finds widespread impropriety

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (left) looks at Nebraska Chief Human Resources Officer Jason Jackson in August during a news conference to release the findings of an internal investigation that led to the firing of the Nebraska State Patrol's superintendent in June.

NATI HARNIK, The Associated Press

The Nebraska State Patrol union board has rejected a request by Gov. Pete Ricketts to reopen State Patrol contract negotiations to talk about changes to the agency's internal investigations processes.

Brian Petersen, president of the State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council, sent a letter Oct. 5 to the Ricketts administration's chief contract negotiator, William Wood, saying the decision was made out of respect for the bargaining process agreed to by both the union and the state. 

Issues brought forward in August, after a State Patrol review by Jason Jackson, the state's chief human resources officer, are already addressed in the collective bargaining agreement, Petersen said. That includes provisions governing internal investigations.

Jackson's review led to the dismissal of former State Patrol Superintendent Brad Rice. His replacement, John Bolduc of San Diego, is due to start next week. 

Formal negotiations took place in late 2016 and early 2017, before Jackson's review was done, and the contract was signed by Ricketts on Feb. 17. The next contract negotiation takes place a year from now. 

In a news release sent Wednesday, Ricketts' spokesman Taylor Gage said the governor wants to ensure the State Patrol is above reproach with "reforms that provide transparency and accountability." That includes internal affairs reforms. 

The letter from Petersen rejecting more bargaining is a clear declaration, Gage said, that the union wants to be "a part of the status quo, rather than work together to move the agency forward." 

Jackson's review said state law, the union contract and patrol organizational policies work to undermine accountability, including the internal investigations process.

Petersen said he doesn't understand why Jackson is trying to blame the union for what happened with Rice, and has fabricated accusations against the troopers' association. 

"I can't help it that the governor appointed Brad Rice and it didn't work out for him, but surely you'd think he'd have more honor that to point the finger at the association," he said. 

The union wants to continue to support Ricketts, he said. "But here's the deal, I don't know how many more of these insults we've got in us to take."

Jackson is operating with bad information, Petersen said, and the governor should question his conclusions. 

The report concluded that most internal affairs cases are investigated by sergeants, who are covered by the law enforcement bargaining unit rather than the supervisor's unit. Being both investigative officers and members of the union obligated to defend troopers they are investigating creates a conflict of interest, the report said. And that could have been a contributing factor in suspected malfeasance in use of force investigations discussed in the review.

Jackson recommended that sergeants be moved to the supervisory bargaining unit, among other recommended revisions. 

Petersen said the state already could assign higher ranking employees outside the bargaining unit to an investigation. 

It's smoke and mirrors, he said.

The governor's office can't reopen talks to get just what it wants and then close them, Petersen said.

"That's not a negotiation," he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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