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Police Conduct: Racial Profiling, Excessive Force


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

 

ACLU’s Report on Police Militarization Finds Weapons and Tactics of War Used Disproportionately Against People of Color

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Report Shows Injustice, Suffering, Caused by SWAT Teams Deployed for Low-Level Police Work, Not Crises

For Immediate Release
June 24, 2014

CONTACT:  Alexandra Ringe, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 212-549-2666

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

NEW YORK – After obtaining and analyzing thousands of documents from police departments around the country, today the American Civil Liberties Union released the report War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states, including Nebraska, and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

“We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs,” said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. ”Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death.”

The report documents multiple tragedies caused by police carrying out needless SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her child in her arms and a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flashbang grenade landed in his crib.

“We hope Nebraska law enforcement will continue to resist this national trend,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. “While agencies in our state have not purchased large amounts of military equipment, we do see an alarming number of SWAT team deployments for search warrants in Omaha. Given the expense involved in SWAT teams, Omaha tax-payers should be asking if using military-grade tactics and equipment for a search warrant is the best use of law enforcement resources.”

The report calls for the federal government to rein in the incentives for police to militarize. The ACLU also asks that local, state, and federal governments track the use of SWAT and the guns, tanks, and other military equipment that end up in police hands.

“Our findings reveal not only the dangers of militarized police, but also the difficulties in determining the extent and impact of those dangers. At every level – from the police to the state governments to the federal government – there is almost no recordkeeping about SWAT or the use of military weapons and vehicles by local law enforcement,” noted Dansky.

In addition, the report recommends that state legislatures and municipalities develop criteria for SWAT raids that limit their deployment to the kinds of emergencies for which they were intended, such as an active shooter situation.

The report is available here: www.aclu.org/militarization.

 

Make Your Voice Heard: Tell OPD Reform is Needed

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Omaha needs smart reform that would make the Omaha Police Department (OPD) more accountable and open. As the OPD goes through accreditation this year, make sure your support for reform is heard.

Based on years of complaints received by our office, along with seeing what has worked in other communities around the country, the ACLU of Nebraska has developed a five point reform proposal:
  • The creation of a police advisory board, which would provide civilian oversight, have subpoena power, and the right to publish results
  • Body worn cameras for OPD officers
  • De-escalation training and anti-bias training for OPD officers
  • The entire OPD policy and procedure manual made available online
  • Revise process for making complaints about law enforcement

Learn more and take the survey.

 
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