Many of the over 1,000 complaints we receive every year are about law enforcement agencies. Sometimes, they are a sign of an officer being rude, but not breaking any laws. Sometimes, they are much more serious. In all cases, these complaints should be going directly to the law enforcement agencies.
But for many people, reporting on law enforcement can be scary. So we’ve tried to see how easy it might be for the average Nebraskan to find information about complaint procedures.
Thankfully, eight law enforcement agencies in Nebraska, including some of the largest in the state, make it easy for people to report an incident with law enforcement. But as our recent survey of 31 law enforcement agencies show, there’s a lot more work to be done to make Nebraska law enforcement agencies accountable.
Don’t take our word for it, though. Check out what the Department of Justice has to say about law enforcement accountability:
"The unique position of power and authority that members of law enforcement hold means that there is an added need to uphold high ethical standards and accountability to the community that a department is sworn to serve and protect. One officer who engages in misconduct or abuse of power can sully the reputation of the entire profession. It is imperative for executives to consistently maintain a culture of integrity and community trust throughout their departments every day." – U.S. Department of Justice
The Department of Justice puts out guidelines to help agencies have the most welcoming, accessible and non-intimidating complaint procedures possible. One of the Nebraska agencies that meets these criteria is the Douglas County Sheriff’s office. We reached out to Sheriff Timothy Dunning to see why following these guidelines are so important to his department and he responded:
"Public trust with the community we serve is vital to the success of every law enforcement agency. An open and transparent complaint process is central to building and maintaining that trust, and it reinforces accountability within the agency. As an accredited agency, we proactively evaluate our policies and procedures and make changes that reflect national best practices,"
-Timothy Dunning, Douglas County Sheriff
Eight agencies aren't good enough, though, particularly when one of the agencies that fails to meet DOJ criteria is the Nebraska State Patrol. Here’s how you can help improve complaint procedures in Nebraska.
While reforming complaint procedures is just one of many steps needed to improve law enforcement accountability in Nebraska, improving these procedures is a low-cost way law enforcement agencies can strengthen community relations. Eight agencies, large and small, at each end of our state show that it is possible to follow the Department of Justice guidelines. The other agencies in Nebraska should follow their lead.