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Police Conduct: Racial Profiling, Excessive Force


ACLU of Nebraska releases law enforcement accountability app

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 6, 2014

CONTACT: Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

ACLU of Nebraska releases law enforcement accountability app

LINCOLN - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska launched a smart phone application (app) called Mobile Justice Nebraska. Mobile Justice Nebraska is based on successful apps utilized in other states and was developed in response to citizen requests for a tool to document potential civil rights violations. The release of this new app builds upon reports released by the ACLU of Nebraska this summer documenting the need for more comprehensive and uniform policies surrounding citizen complaint procedures, the use of Tasers, and racial profiling. The release of this app also builds upon a national conversation about improving law enforcement accountability with the use of car and body cameras to document citizen interactions and potential violations.

The Android app can be downloaded free through the ACLU of Nebraska website. The app has record, witness, and report functions. The app also puts basic information about civil rights into the hands of smart phone users. The record function allows citizens to capture exchanges between police officers and citizens in audio and video files that are sent to the ACLU of Nebraska for evaluation. The witness function sends out an alert when citizens want to alert other app users that additional documentation may be needed. The report function gives the user the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to the ACLU of Nebraska for review. The Know Your Rights function provides an overview of our popular civil rights training materials.

"The inscription over the main entrance to our State Capitol reads ‘The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen ’. This new technology furthers this deeply held Nebraska value and expands civic education efforts,” said ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad.

In March of 2013, 32 officers of the Omaha Police Department entered the home of the Johnson family in response to a parking ticket. Charges were filed against multiple officers. A civil suit, filed by the ACLU, was recently moved forward by a judge in Douglas County. A video of the incident was captured by a neighbor and posted online.

“A neighbor stepped forward and recorded documentation about this case. That evidence is crucial to ensuring justice for the Johnson family. Everyone has the right to film law enforcement and this tool provides clarity for citizens and law enforcement to make sure everyone’s rights are respected,” said Amy Miller, Legal Director for the ACLU of Nebraska.

ACLU affiliates in Mississippi, Oregon and Missouri are joining the ACLU of Nebraska in releasing the Mobile Justice app today. Funded by a grant from the National ACLU, the Mobile Justice app was developed by Quadrant 2 – the same developer that created the Stop and Frisk Watch app for the New York Civil Liberties Union to address racial profiling. An iPhone version of Mobile Justice will be released at a later date.

“Since the NYCLU released its app in 2012, it has been downloaded more than 30,000 times and the New York Police Department’s use of street stops has declined by more than half,” explains Sarah Rossi, the ACLU of Missouri’s director of advocacy and policy. “These numbers tell us that this type of app is sorely needed and can positively impact our communities.”

The ACLU is working with community organizations to provide “Know Your Rights” trainings on how to use the app as well as basic rights related to interactions with law enforcement. Groups are encouraged to contact the ACLU to arrange a training.

A training open to the general public will take place in Omaha on Friday, November 21 from 5:30-7:30 pm at the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center, 6001 Dodge Street.

To download the app, visit http://www.aclunebraska.org/mobilejustice

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ABOUT: ACLU of Nebraska and its diverse membership works in courts, the legislature and our communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States and Nebraska guarantee everyone in this state.

 

Mobile Justice Nebraska

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You have the right to film the police.

The ACLU of Nebraska Mobile Justice smartphone app was created to empower individuals to hold Nebraska law enforcement agencies accountable for their actions. The Android app* can be downloaded here.

It has four main features:

  • Record - allows citizens to capture exchanges between police officers and themselves or other community members in audio and video files that are automatically emailed to the ACLU of Nebraska.
  • Witness - gives citizens the option to alert nearby Mobile Justice App users when they are stopped by police in order to witness and document the interaction.
  • Report - gives citizens the option to provide a more-detailed account of their interactions with police in an incident report, which will be transmitted directly to the ACLU of Nebraska.
  • Know Your Rights - provides an overview of what rights protect Nebraskans when they are stopped by law enforcement officers.

The app is only available on the Android at this time. An iPhone version will follow.

A WARNING

When interacting with law enforcement, exercise caution when attempting to use the app to document your exchange. Your safety depends on your ability to clearly communicate your actions and to remain calm.

  • Announce that you are reaching for your phone.
  • Announce that you are attempting to access the app to record the exchange.
  • If the officer forbids or prevents you from doing so, do not argue or resist.
  • Follow the officer’s instructions.
  • If your rights have been violated, your attorney will argue your case later.
  • If the officer attempts to touch your screen in an effort to destroy the evidence you've captured, don't worry. The app is password protected and will immediately forward what you captured at the point at which the proper password is not provided.
Mobile Justice has three main features: record, witness and report, along with a Know Your Rights section.
 

Building Public Confidence: Ending Racial Profiling in Nebraska

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ACLU: People of color unfairly targeted by Nebraska law enforcement

Organization adds that militarization of local agencies with biased practices is alarming.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 26, 2014

CONTACT:  Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – Today the ACLU of Nebraska released the final in a series of reports on Nebraska law enforcement practices. The report, entitled Building Public Confidence: Ending Racial Profiling in Nebraska, reviewed data collected by the Nebraska Crime Commission. The ACLU’s analysis of the data found that “profiling in Nebraska traffic stops disproportionately and negatively affects communities of colors.”

“To serve and protect is not a suggestion. It is a mandate that law enforcement must apply equally to all communities,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “Unfortunately the data from the Nebraska Crime Commission shows that Nebraska law enforcement agencies are targeting communities of color. In addition to being unfair, this hurts public safety by destroying trust between law enforcement and the people of Nebraska.”

Nebraska began collecting racial profiling data in 2002. In 2012, the Nebraska Legislature renewed the law that mandated the data collection and expanded the Nebraska Crime Commission’s authority to act on the data from local agencies. According to the ACLU report, the Crime Commission has yet to use their authority.

The ACLU report focuses on three findings:

  • People of color are more likely to be pulled over. Black drivers in Omaha are pulled over twice as often as they should be according to census data. In Lincoln, black drivers are pulled over three times as often.
  • People of color are more likely to be arrested. A white driver has a 1 in 48 chance of being arrested. Drivers of color have a 1 in 13 chance of being arrested. The data showed that there was not a significant difference in the actual offenses committed by the drivers.
  • People of color are more likely to be subjected to searches. 1 in 50 white drivers were searched while 1 in 30 drivers of color were searched.

This is not the only instance of racially biased practices reported by the ACLU in recent years. A 2013 report called The War on Marijuana in Black & White found that Nebraska is behind only New York and D.C. in terms of overall arrest rates. Looking into those numbers further found Nebraska also had one of the highest arrest rates for blacks. In Nebraska, blacks are 4.65 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

In June of this year, the ACLU released War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The report found that many police departments, including the Omaha Police Department, uses SWAT teams for search warrants, particularly in communities of color. Since the data for the report was collected, Nebraska law enforcement agencies have acquired several more pieces of military equipment.

“The idea of military equipment in the hands of local law enforcement agencies that participate in racially biased practices is terrifying,” said Miller. “A national spotlight has been pointed at Ferguson Missouri, a community that, unfortunately, does not look that different than Nebraska. The reality is that racially biased law enforcement practices and excessive militarization of law enforcement exists in communities around our country. Nebraska should act now to build public trust with law enforcement.”

The ACLU has several recommendations for Nebraska agencies:

  • Mandate anti-bias trainings through the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center.
  • Bring law enforcement complaint processes into alignment with Department of Justice recommendations.
  • Follow Department of Justice recommendations for use of body-worn cameras and dash cameras.

The Nebraska Racial Profiling Advisory meets on Thursday, September 18th at 9:30 am in the State Office Building. The ACLU encourages those who have experienced racial profiling to attend the meeting or share their story with the ACLU.

For a copy of the ACLU’s report on Militarization: https://www.aclu.org/militarization
For a copy of the ACLU’s report on Marijuana: https://www.aclu.org/marijuana
For a copy of the ACLU’s reform agenda in response to Ferguson, Mo.: https://www.aclu.org/aclu-response-ferguson

 

Dangerously Out of Bounds: Tasers in Nebraska

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ACLU Report shows Nebraska agencies regularly use TASERs against vulnerable people

Agencies have inconsistent policies, training and reporting.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 19, 2014

CONTACT:  Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – Today the ACLU released a report on Taser use that finds Nebraska law enforcement has grossly misused Tasers in several instances. The report, entitled Dangerously Out of Bounds: Tasers in Nebraska, investigates eleven police departments from January 2013 to May 2014. Two agencies that had previously cooperated with ACLU requests, the Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department, refused to provide any records.

Tasers release 50,000 volts of electricity that jolt the body’s central nervous system. While often classified as a “less-lethal” weapon, Amnesty International reports that there have been over 540 Taser-related deaths in the United States in the past thirteen years. Because of the dangers associated with using a Taser, the Department of Justice has provided guidelines for safely using a Taser. The ACLU evaluated Nebraska law enforcement agencies adherence to these guidelines.

These guidelines include:

  • Taser deployment is only justified when a subject is exhibiting active aggression or actively resisting in a manner that will cause injury to themselves or others.
  • Law enforcement officers must avoid using Tasers in a coercive or punitive manner, which means the avoidance of drive-stun mode and ensuring that multiple shocks are warranted.
  • Targeting sensitive body areas—including the chest—can increase the risk of injury or death and thus should be avoided.
  • Lastly, officers must be aware that members of vulnerable populations may be more susceptible to injury or death and should be Tasered only in extreme circumstances.

The ACLU’s investigation found that most policies failed to comply with the above guidelines. Policies frequently provided minimal information that would help a law enforcement officer determine if Taser use was appropriate.

“The lack of oversight and guidance for law enforcement officers who may be using a Taser is beyond appalling,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “50,000 volts of electricity can be lethal. The fact that officers on our streets and in our schools have these weapons and little, if any, policies or are in place on how to use them should concern all Nebraskans.”

In addition to asking for policies, the ACLU also asked for use of force reports related to Tasers. According to the ACLU, it is difficult to compare one department to another because the reporting forms vary greatly. For example, some ask for race of the individual who was Tasered and others do not.

The reports reviewed by the ACLU documented several instances when Tasers were used against the recommendations of the Department of Justice. These include:

  • An elderly disabled man with dementia Tasered by Omaha Police
  • A man Tasered by Grand Island Police for “staring down” officer from hospital bed.
  • A Hastings man Tasered in retaliation for spitting on officers.
  • A woman with mental illness Tasered while sitting in Grand Island.
  • A ten year old child Tasered by Kearney Police in a public school.

“Some of the individuals who have been Tasered by Nebraska law enforcement have been incredibly vulnerable and at risk for extreme mental and physical health problems due to being Tasered. It is time that all Nebraska law enforcement agencies have policies that rein in this inappropriate use of force. The lack of accountability and oversight on Tasers can be improved with comprehensive written policies that include the Department of Justice recommendations,” said Miller.

The report has minimal information on two of Nebraska’s largest police departments, the Omaha Police Department and the Lincoln Police Department. While these agencies have provided records in the past, both agencies refused to do so.

“This means nearly three-quarters of a million Nebraskans live in a community that refuses to be accountable and transparent about their use of a weapon that has killed hundreds of Americans,” said Miller. “This is one of the most disturbing instances of police withholding public information that we have seen. When a device can kill or severely injure someone, people have a right to know how that device is being used in Nebraska.”

 

ACLU Report on Local Law Enforcement Complaint Practices Finds Lack of Accountability

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Report Shows Agencies Severely Limit Public Comment Including Through Intimidation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 12, 2014

CONTACT:  Tyler Richard, (402) 476-8091 x104, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

LINCOLN – After receiving many individual reports of intimidation or difficulty making a complaint to a local law enforcement agency, the ACLU of Nebraska investigated the practices of the 31 largest law enforcement agencies in Nebraska. The findings were released Tuesday in a report entitled For the Good of the Public: How Nebraska Police Complaint Processes Fail the Public. The report found most agencies had complaint procedures that did not comply with expert guidelines.

“Whether witnessing an officer driving poorly or excessive force, the public should be able to easily make comments about local law enforcement without feeling intimidated,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “Unfortunately, all but one agency made it very difficult to file a complaint, and some agencies used intimidating language that could discourage someone from making a valid complaint. Without ways to report complaints, law enforcement agencies lack transparency and accountability.”

The ACLU reviewed the websites of 31 law enforcement agencies and found that only eight provided information about their complaint process online. Even fewer provided a walkthrough of the complaint process. Many agencies failed to provide a phone number on their website for taking complaints.

A smaller number of agencies were surveyed by phone. According to the report, some agencies were unwilling to discuss complaint processes over the phone unless someone wanted to file a complaint. Other agencies required someone to come to the office in-person to file a complaint, one even requiring that the visit take place during business hours.

“While most agencies failed to meet national best practices for complaints, it is important to note that the Lincoln Police Department most closely adheres to expert guidelines. Additionally, the Bellevue Police Department was rated highly by our volunteers in the phone survey. More agencies should follow the examples of their peers in Lincoln and Bellevue. The changes we’ve proposed are easy and nearly free, such as an online complaint form that can be submitted at any time by anyone with a concern. We call for Nebraska police chiefs and sheriffs to update their complaint policies. A supervisor should want feedback on their employees, particularly when taxpayers are those being served.”

The report is available here: http://www.aclunebraska.org/images/attachments/206_ACLU%20of%20NE%20LLE%20Complaint%20Report%20-%20FINAL.pdf

 
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