Qualifications of the newly appointed executive director of the Nebraska Crime Commission were questioned by members of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at his confirmation hearing.
Don Arp Jr. has served as Crime Commission director since February, appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Arp told the committee he was admittedly not a traditional candidate for the position. The past three directors were retired law enforcement officers, two from the Nebraska State Patrol.
State law says the executive director must be qualified for the position by "appropriate training and experience in the field of criminal law and justice." Arp has never been a law enforcement officer, worked in a detention facility or as a parole officer.
But Arp said his father was in law enforcement, with the Lincoln Police Department for 30 years. And along with Arp's bachelor's degree in history and master's degree in anthropology, he has certificates in computer science and forensic science. He was also trained in interviewing by Gary Plank, a nationally known criminal profiler, criminal investigator and retired state trooper.
He told the committee he is no less compliant with the statute than his predecessors. He has worked in criminal justice and public safety through academic research, publication and field work, he said.
"I simply present a different perspective, one that is needed after 20 years of the status quo," he said.
The Crime Commission is responsible for law enforcement training, certification investigations and inspections of detention facilities. It also administers grant funds.
His career has focused on public and private sector compliance, oversight, process improvement and management assessment, he said. In 2016, he was hired as a process improvement coordinator in the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services, assisting the director of Ricketts' Center of Operational Excellence in launching the state's process improvement program.
Since being appointed to the Crime Commission, Arp said, he has established a list of core beliefs for the agency, which include "relentless focus on our customers," respect and appreciation for teammates, and empowerment to question and drive improvements.
He has rescinded more than 30 outdated and "nonvalue-added" staff memos and procedures, freed up 29 hours per week of staff time, implemented an employee handbook, appointed a legislative liaison and policy coordinator, met with customers that include the sheriff's association, police chiefs, the inspector general for child welfare and the attorney general.
Arp told Judiciary Committee member Ernie Chambers he even considered inmates to be customers of the agency.
Judy gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, spoke in support of Arp, saying other directors of the Crime Commission often didn't listen to her as a Native woman, but she was impressed by Arp's approach to leading the agency.
No one spoke in opposition to Arp's appointment at Wednesday's hearing. Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks questioned whether his appointment violated state law. Arp responded that the law was "somewhat vague." It doesn't say the director must have a law enforcement certificate.
However, Pansing Brooks and committee chairman Steve Lathrop told Arp people had contacted the committee saying his experience wasn't enough to qualify him for the position.
The past three directors have set a pattern the crime commission might not want to continue if it wants to change the "operational tempo" of the agency, Arp said. He has learned that many people don't know what the Crime Commission is.
Of Arp's experience, Lathrop said, his work in law enforcement was done as part of his profession of anthropology. Lathrop's father was an attorney, but that didn't mean he could practice law without going to law school and passing the bar exam, he said.
"We have to take seriously the qualifications that are set out in the statute," Lathrop told Arp.
The committee will later vote to recommend Arp's confirmation by the full Legislature.