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‘Bringing it back to Lincoln’ – In ash borer battle, Arbor Day Foundation helps city, residents plant free new roots

City crews have continued their battle this year with the emerald ash borer, the dime-sized Asian insect determined to decimate Lincoln’s 65,000 public and private ash trees.

In June, two years after the pest appeared in Lincoln, the city chemically treated about 700 high-value trees — granted rare reprieves because of their size, significance, health or location.

But most of the 14,000 city-owned ashes — planted in public parks, golf courses and along streets -- are still destined for the wood chipper at a rate of about 1,000 per year, said Adam Klingenberg of the Parks and Recreation Department's community forestry section.

The city has a plan to replace each exiled ash with a variety of species, doing its own replanting in parks, and issuing $225 vouchers to homeowners to select new street-side trees.

And on Thursday, it got some help from the Arbor Day Foundation.

Foundation employees gathered in Mahoney Park to plant 50 trees — traditional oaks, elms, locusts and lindens, but also catalpas and Japanese tree lilacs and Exclamation London plane trees, all species approved in the city’s ash borer recovery plan.

The foundation wanted a way to celebrate achieving one of the goals it set last year in its Time for Trees initiative: Inspiring 5 million people around the world to plant trees — either in their own backyards or at volunteer events — by this month.

It didn’t take that long. The Lincoln-based foundation met the goal in June, said spokeswoman Jen Hallaman.

“It’s kind of a way of taking our global goal and bringing it back to Lincoln, engaging our employees and community members and living out our mission here at home,” she said.

The foundation is planning a similar event next week in Nebraska City, planting 50 trees in Wildwood and Steinhart parks.

The foundation is also cosponsoring an event that will give 250 free future shade trees to the public to replace those doomed by the ash borer or damaged in recent storms.

The Trick or Tree distribution is scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 24 in the parking lot of Star City Shores, near 33rd Street and Nebraska 2. Residents are allowed up to two trees on a first-come, first-served basis, and can choose from American sycamore, bur and red oak, Kentucky coffee tree and northern catalpa.

Because of the pandemic, residents must stay in their vehicles while volunteers load the three-gallon containers and planting instructions.

The event is also sponsored by the Peter Kiewit Foundation, FedEx, Lincoln Parks and Recreation and the Community Forestry Advisory Board.

Photos: Our best staff images of October 2020

Presidential contest heats up

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden squared off, in a way, Thursday night, their scuttled second debate replaced by dueling televised town halls that showcased striking differences in temperament, views on racial justice and approaches to the pandemic that has reshaped the nation.

Trump was defensive about his administration's handling of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 215,000 American lives, and evasive when when pressed about whether he took a required COVID-19 test before his first debate with Biden. Angry and combative, he refused to denounce the QAnon conspiracy group — and only testily did so on white supremacists.

The president also appeared to acknowledge he was in debt and left open the possibility that some of it was owed to a foreign bank. He insisted that he didn't owe any money to Russia or any "sinister people" and suggested that being $400 million in debt was a "very, very small percentage" compared to his overall assets.

Biden, appearing nearly 1,200 miles away, denounced the White House's handling of the virus, declaring that it was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration in which he served. Though vague at times, he acknowledged it was a mistake to support a 1994 crime bill that led to increased Black incarceration and suggested he finally will offer clarity on his position on expanding the Supreme Court if Trump's nominee to the bench is seated before Election Day.

Trump, less than two weeks after being diagnosed with COVID-19, dodged directly answering whether he took a test the day of the Sept. 29 debate, only saying "possibly I did, possibly I didn't." Debate rules required that each candidate, using the honor system, had tested negative prior to the Cleveland event, but Trump spoke in circles when asked when he last tested negative.

It was his positive test two days later that created Thursday's odd spectacle, which deprived most viewers of a simultaneous look at the candidates just 19 days before Election Day. The moment seemed fitting for a race unlike any other, as yet another campaign ritual changed by the pandemic that has rewritten the norms of society.

The presidential rivals took questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump backed out of plans for the presidential faceoff originally scheduled for the evening after debate organizers said it would be held virtually following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The town halls offered a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters, after the pair held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month. The difference in the men's tone was immediate and striking.

Trump was Trump. He was loud and argumentative, fighting with the host, Savannah Guthrie, complaining about the questioning — and eventually saying for the first time that he would honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting an extraordinary amount doubt on the likeliness of fairness.

"And then they talk 'Will you accept a peaceful transfer,'" Trump said. "And the answer is, 'Yes, I will.' But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else."

He again sought to minimize revelations from a New York Times investigation that he has more than $400 million in debt and suggested that reports are wrong that he paid little or no federal income taxes in most years over the past two decades. He insisted that Americans should not be alarmed by his debt and repeatedly insisted that he is "underleveraged."

Biden meanwhile, took a far different, softer, approach with audience questions. The former vice president, who struggled growing up with a stutter, stuttered slightly at the start of the program and at one point squeezed his eyes shut and slowed down his response to clearly enunciate his words.

Biden vowed to say before Election Day whether he will support expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court if Democrats win the presidency, the Senate and hold the House after November.

Biden also blasted Trump's foreign policy, declaring that "'America first' has made 'America alone'" and "This president embraces all the thugs in the world." He turned introspective when asked what it would say if he lost.

"It could say that I'm a lousy candidate, that I didn't do a good job," Biden said. "But I think, I hope that it doesn't say that we're as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds as it appears the president wants us to be."

Biden said he plans to participate in next week's debate but that he would ask Trump to take a COVID-19 test before arriving. The two men are still scheduled to occupy the same space for a debate for a second and final time next week in Nashville, Tennessee.

Biden's son, Hunter Biden, has come under scrutiny this week following a New York Post report outlining an email Hunter allegedly received from a Ukrainian businessman discussing a meeting with the elder Biden. Biden's campaign has said the meeting never happened, and experts have raised questions about the veracity of the email, but Trump has nevertheless seized on the news and has pushed falsehoods about Hunter Biden at each of his rallies this week.

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Judiciary Committee hears six hours of testimony on policing in Nebraska

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee was about four hours into a hearing on police reform when senators heard the revelation. 

In Nebraska, police can be hired in small communities across the state and work a year with no training. 

Brandon Lorenson, past president of the Police Officers Association of Nebraska and a Fremont Police Department detective, told the committee a person could begin working as a police officer without being certified or trained by the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island. 

His comments were part of a more than six-hour hearing Thursday that took testimony on law enforcement issues related to calls in recent months for reform and improved policing in Nebraska. 

Testimony from law enforcement, including Lincoln and Omaha police department leaders, dominated the hearing. Much of the discussion concerned police training and policies on such things as discipline, advisory boards, misconduct, use of force, choke holds and no-knock warrants. 

Courtesy photo 

Cadets practice procedures for high-risk traffic stops at the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island.

But the discussion on officers working without training stunned some members of the committee. 

Sen. Steve Lathrop: "So, I can carry a gun, wear a badge and enforce the law in Small Town, Nebraska ... not going through the training academy at Grand Island first?" 

Lorenson: "That is accurate."

Lathrop asked again. Could he come from a job flipping burgers to being a sworn police office for a year before going to the police academy? And again, Lorenson said, yes, as long as the person was 21, and had a high school or general educational diploma.

But he didn't know how common it was. 

The initial training at the academy is offered every three to four months and is expensive, Lorenson said. And recruitment, wages and work hours are difficult in smaller jurisdictions. 

GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star file photo 

The Lincoln Police Department's law enforcement training campus includes a multi-use building with classrooms.

Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth said smaller communities are the training ground for the rest of the state, and after investing in officers they come back from training and take off for a higher-paying job in a bigger city. And that leaves the town with an opening that is hard to fill. 

"It seems sort of common among some of the law enforcement agencies (to be) a little bit of, 'Try it before you buy it,'" Brandt said. 

But Lathrop said he was concerned that high school graduates would be expected to make judgment calls without training on issues attorneys spend a semester on in law school, such as probable cause — or without training on how to shoot a gun. 

Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said the information was "shocking," and the state needs to buck up and get training for all law enforcement.

"I am dumbfounded by this revelation today, so we will need to continue this discussion," she said. "We want to make law enforcement better. We want to get the training."  

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers said if he were coming back in January — he's reached term limits — it would be one of the first things he would undertake. 

"It sounds ridiculous that this would happen, but the Legislature can correct it, and you all who are coming back have an obligation and a responsibility," he said. 

Assistant Attorney General Corey O'Brien said he wasn't aware people were still working without training until last year when an officer in Dundy County, who had served nine months without training, was out on patrol and raped a woman. 

He was successfully prosecuted. 

O'Brien said the Attorney General's Office is investigating up to 20 police officers for various misconduct violations, ranging from giving false information to use of force. It is also involved in six active prosecutions. The office has averaged about 25 investigations of law enforcement over the past 15 years, many of those prosecuted and some resulting in convictions. 

The Lincoln Police Department was praised for its transparency and enacting changes because of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests earlier this year.

Ishma Yusaf Valenti of the Malone Center told the committee police don't become racist after they become officers. It starts much earlier. 

He said 50% of complaints to Lincoln's Police Advisory Board are from Black people, even though they are 5% of the population. 

"So we know there is need for some type of change," he said. 

With that, he said, Lincoln Police have stepped up with the Hold Cops Accountable committee and an agreement that brings the police and community to the table once a month to address problems. 

That has braided into the TRACE committee, he said, with subcommittees to work toward equity and justice in policing. The policy subcommittee has given a use-of-force recommendation to LPD Chief Jeff Bliemeister, he said, and he and captains have given great feedback. 

It's what community policing should look like, Valenti said. 

In answer to a question on training, Bliemeister said police are asked to perform a wide variety of skills and are not experts in any one of them in particular. And most of them are not the traditional policing and enforcement expectations. 

"It's all of these other social services that no one else has the willingness or responsiveness to be able to pick up and take ownership of," he said. 

He suggested senators could look at the further strengthening of standards preventing people from coming into the profession who don't belong in it. It could mandate more thorough reviews from psychologists and polygraphs in the hiring process. 

"Expensive endeavors," he said of heightened standards, "but one that I believe prevents tragedy ... (and) should be a priority."

Bliemeister said the department has done a thorough review of actions by police during protests this summer. Asked what he would change, he answered communication between police and the community. 

Omaha Police Department Deputy Chief Greg Gonzalez said that since the death of George Floyd all 900 Omaha officers have had training related to suicide-by-cop, implicit bias, use-of-force policies, duty to report and duty to intervene.

And deescalation techniques are emphasized. 

The department has hired more than 350 officers in the past eight years and increased diversity at every rank, especially the officer level. 

"We want police officers that not only look like the community but speak the same language, that can solve crime," he said. 

Photos, videos of protests in Lincoln

Photos, videos: Violent and peaceful protests in Lincoln over George Floyd's death