Police in Nebraska are pulling over, searching and arresting black people too often, ACLU officials said Tuesday in a report on racial profiling.
In Lincoln, for example, blacks make up 9.6 percent of all drivers police stop while making up 3.5 percent of the city’s population, and that constitutes racial profiling, according to the 11-page ACLU Nebraska report titled “Building Public Confidence: Ending Racial Profiling in Nebraska.”
ACLU officials used more than a decade’s worth of data to conclude that law enforcement officers across the state are racially profiling the people they pull over, search and arrest.
“In addition to being unfair, this hurts public safety by destroying trust between law enforcement and the people of Nebraska,” Legal Director Amy Miller said in a news release.
Lincoln Assistant Police Chief Brian Jackson said department brass know about the disparity between how many blacks live in Lincoln and how many police stop.
“We see the data and we listen to the data,” Jackson said, adding that it’s not realistic to expect the figures for traffic stops and the general population to match up exactly.
The ACLU doesn't explain reasons for the gap, but Jackson said he thinks it might be the result of something other than racism.
Police captains deploy more officers to neighborhoods where they get the most calls for service, he said. If more blacks, Latinos and other non-whites live in those areas compared with the city as a whole, they could get pulled over, searched and arrested more.
“There’s no way to tell, but it’s a likely factor,” Jackson said.
ACLU officials think their report shows policymakers need to overhaul how officers across the state police their communities, according to the report.
They recommend that the state’s Law Enforcement Training Center offer officers anti-bias training and that all law enforcement agencies make their officers take that training every year.
Lincoln police don’t meet that requirement, Jackson said. The department trains every new police officer about how to avoid racial profiling and refreshes officers every few years. Plus, each officer goes through an ethics course each year, which can touch on race and policing.
“We work very hard to provide a fair and unbiased response,” he said.
But, he added, the department doesn’t have a yearly training program specifically dedicated to eradicating racial bias.
In Tuesday’s report, ACLU officials also question whether the system for reporting bias is effective. In 2013, Nebraska’s law enforcement agencies reported 21 complaints of racial profiling, something ACLU officials called “extremely low.”
None of the 171 investigations of complaints of racial profiling in the past 12 years found racial bias or resulted in discipline, ACLU officials say in their report, raising two questions: Do people who experience racial profiling feel free to complain about it? Can law enforcement agencies investigate themselves?
So the state’s Crime Commission should create a complaint process for racial profiling separate from the individual agencies where the complaint starts, as the Legislature empowered them to do, according to the report.
The Crime Commission’s executive director, Darrell Fisher, declined to comment Tuesday; Fisher said he was in a meeting all day and hadn’t looked at the report.
Earlier this month, ACLU officials praised Lincoln police for how open they are in dealing with citizen complaints against officers.
ACLU officials also are pushing for police departments, sheriffs’ offices and the State Patrol to get dashboard and body cameras. Doing so will eliminate any sort of “he said, she said” ambiguity, substantiate legitimate claims of bias, and exonerate officers who are wrongly accused.
Jackson said he read the report and, as with anything else, he and others will use it to fine-tune how they do things and improve.
“We are working on it,” he said, “but I think it’s something we’re constantly working on and it will never cease.”