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An ACLU of Nebraska report shows racial disparities in traffic stops continue to increase in the state, despite an effort by some law enforcement agencies to address profiling and offer anti-bias training to some employees.

"Racial profiling hurts and humiliates people and does irreparable damage to the relationships between law enforcement and the community," the ACLU points out in the report, "Equality Before the Stop."

The civil liberties organization said new strategies are needed to "address these persistent and unfair disparities in traffic stops and to combat racial profiling."

As recently as April, the organization has pointed out the need for new training and has continued to evaluate the degree of anti-bias training in Nebraska’s largest law enforcement agencies. Its latest report identified ways to strengthen Nebraska’s approach to combat the problem.

Reports from the Nebraska Crime Commission say Nebraskans of color are at least twice as likely to be stopped as white Nebraskans. Specifically, black drivers were twice as likely to be stopped as white drivers in 2018.

Crime Commission statistics showed in 2018 that 8.8% of stops of black drivers resulted in searches, compared with 2.8% of white drivers. Those stops resulting in arrests for black drivers was 18.2%, compared with 2.8% for white drivers. 

In Lincoln, black drivers were pulled over in 11% of the 41,000 traffic stops by the Lincoln Police Department, even though they accounted for 4.3% of the city's population.

Lincoln police officials have acknowledged racial disparities in traffic stop data in the past several years, but their studies have pointed to economic factors and police patrol realities as contributing to the disparities.

The latest ACLU investigation examined local police and sheriff's department policies and training from 23 local law enforcement agencies, including the Nebraska State Patrol, in Nebraska's 12 most populous and diverse counties using open-records requests.

The findings included:

* Seven of 21 law enforcement agencies that responded did not have a written anti-racial profiling policy. Nebraska law requires a written racial profiling policy for every law enforcement agency;

* Eleven of 21 law enforcement agencies that responded had at least one employee participate in anti-bias training during the relevant survey period;

* Of those agencies, about 6% of the employees from the 23 surveyed agencies had attended an anti-bias training during the survey period;

* The Chadron Police Department reported 100% employee participation in anti-bias training and the Lincoln Police Department had almost 20% of its employees reporting attendance at an anti-bias training during the period.

“Officers should not be able to opt-out of anti-bias training just like black, Latino, Native American, and other drivers of color cannot opt-out of stops resulting from racial profiling,” said Rose Godinez, legal and policy counsel for ACLU of Nebraska.

The report said the organization regularly receives complaints from Nebraskans of color about being pulled over in a manner they believe enables authorities to detain a suspect for investigation of other matters.

A Nebraska police officer who is black told the ACLU he was pulled over in downtown Omaha for making a right turn without a turn signal. The driver informed the officer making the stop that he was also a police officer, and informed him he had his service weapon in the car.

The Omaha police officer had him exit the vehicle and handcuffed him. Soon after, the Omaha officer's partner arrived, uncuffed him and apologized, the report said.

In another case, a Latino driver who had pulled to the side of the road after his car broke down was approached by a county sheriff's officer, who asked for identification for the driver and his son-in-law. He offered his driver's license, but the officer asked for another one to "make sure it was him." That incident was also corrected when another officer came to the scene.

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The report showed, based on the ACLU survey, how many employees at the 21 agencies received specific anti-bias training. The Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center does incorporate racial profiling awareness into basic training that all officers complete for certification.

The ACLU report said ongoing training is needed for new recruits and veteran officers because basic training is not enough. State law does not require a specific type or amount of anti-bias training.

These agencies had some officers that received implicit training beyond that included in basic training:

* Lincoln Police Department, 94 of 508 employees;

* Lancaster County Sheriff's Office, 3 of 106 employees;

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* Crete Police Department, 11 of 16;

* Nebraska State Patrol, 31 of 697;

* Omaha Police Department, 0 of 1,056;

* Douglas County Sheriff's Office, 0 of 125; 

* Grand Island Police Department, 5 of 105; 

* Hall County Sheriff's Department, 0 of 42. 

 The ACLU recommended that law enforcement agencies: 

* Ensure compliance with existing Nebraska law mandating anti-racial profiling policies, and with state law mandating data collection and reporting of traffic stop data;

* Strengthen data collection and reporting;

* Mandate specific and continuing anti-bias training and testing;

* Improve civilian complaint mechanisms to investigate racial profiling allegations and report outcomes of complaints;

* Terminate agreements with the Department of Homeland Security to prevent increased racial profiling. Those agreements authorize local law enforcement agencies to carry out federal immigration law;

* Review and amend labor agreements to prevent barriers to officer accountability.

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

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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