Once again, data show that Nebraskans of color are pulled over at a disproportionately high rate.
Statistics from the Nebraska Crime Commission indicate that minorities were at least twice as likely to be stopped – in addition to being searched and arrested with greater frequency – as compared to white drivers in 2018. That disparity has lingered for years and years, even after the state banned racial profiling by police in 2001.
Despite how well this constant inequity has been documented, a report issued earlier this month by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska details how little progress many of the state’s law enforcement agencies have made in receiving anti-bias training.
Given the persistence of this discrepancy and high-profile incidents involving persons of color from coast to coast, the report’s findings should inspire action to reverse a trend that’s shown no signs of abating.
Some of the anecdotal evidence detailed – one story included an off-duty black police officer handcuffed until his duty partner arrived – is maddening. But what’s particularly troubling is that ACLU found only 11 of the 21 law enforcement agencies that responded had an employee participate in any anti-bias training during the survey. One-third lacked anti-racial-profiling policies required by state law.
If law enforcement departments aren’t even meeting the minimum statutory standards, how is the needed reform going to happen? Nebraska has a long way to go in reducing the disproportionate number of stops, searches and arrests of minorities.
Perhaps, just as continuing education is required to remain licensed in certain professions, increasing benchmarks for training of this nature could help cut down on this longtime disparity. Anti-bias training serves an important purpose in bringing to light unconscious biases we may not otherwise know we have.
Of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies, the Lincoln Police Department appears to have made the most progress on anti-bias training.
The ACLU report stated 94 of 508 employees had undergone specific anti-bias training in 2018, with the department reporting that 323 officers completed a broader spectrum of coursework as part of its accreditation. Though the semantics in this case aren’t trivial, what matters is that LPD continues to be open and frank about the steps it’s taken in years past and its plans for future improvement.
In the end, improvement is the keyword.
And law enforcement agencies have a blueprint in the ACLU’s report, which offers clear, actionable suggestions – including increased training and better data collection – that the Journal Star editorial board hopes can bring the number of traffic stops more in line with the state’s demographics.
The continuance of the racial disparity in Nebraska’s stops, searches and arrests is proof positive that the status quo needs to be updated.