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September 13, 2014

This blog originially appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star on September 13, 2014.

As the Lincoln Journal Star editorial board recently said, racial profiling should have no place in law enforcement. We were pleased to see the recent editorial (Profiling a complicated issue, Sept. 28) giving attention to this issue.

We've also been pleased that, unlike some law enforcement officials, Public Safety Director Tom Casady, Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peshong, and others with the Lincoln Police Department are taking the issue seriously.

While we stand by our assertion that there are problems stemming from law enforcement actions that need addressing in Lincoln, there are a few things the Lincoln Police Department is doing right:

The actions from Casady are particularly important for reasons he sets out in his blog when looking at factors beyond race that he believes account for the racial disparities. He wrote:

"I also want individual police officers to understand what they can do to minimize the perception of racial profiling among minority citizens during traffic stops. Perception is everything, and there is no denying that the perception by African American citizens that the police engage in racial profiling is quite high. You will not convince people otherwise with data: you will only convince them with your actions."

Unfortunately, many Nebraska law enforcement agencies refuse to acknowledge and address the issue of racial profiling in any meaningful way. That is exactly why the Legislature increased the authority of the Crime Commission this spring to allow it to investigate agencies that participate in racial profiling. The language passed by the legislature in LB99 is clear: "After the review and analysis, the commission may study individual law enforcement agency circumstances (and) make recommendations to any such law enforcement agency for the purpose of improving measures to prevent racial profiling or the appearance of racial profiling."

The Nebraska Crime Commission has asserted that it does not have the authority to investigate agencies and provide recommendations. We find this perspective puzzling given the above language.

Racial profiling is a serious issue that affects everyone's public safety. Communities that don't trust law enforcement are less likely to aid in investigations and report crimes. For those reasons, the Crime Commission needs to use the authority it received from the Legislature this year.

We can and should spend a significant amount of time analyzing the data. At the end of the day, what we are looking for is accountability. Law enforcement agencies around the country are having great success with body-worn cameras. The Department of Justice recently released a report with recommendations on body-worn cameras, including the endorsements of several police chiefs, such as the following:

"Although body-worn cameras are just one tool, the quality of information that they can capture is unsurpassed. With sound policy and guidance, their evidentiary value definitely outweighs any drawbacks or concerns." -- Jason Parker, chief, Dalton Police Department

The city of Lincoln should expand its use of body-worn cameras following the recommendations of the Department of Justice. These recommendations echo many the ACLU has outlined in a 2013 white paper on the subject. Body-worn cameras can both protect public safety and ensure privacy rights are protected.

If you have experienced racial profiling in Lincoln, we encourage you to file a complaint with the department. As our report on complaint procedures showed earlier this year, the Lincoln Police Department has the most accessible complaint procedure in the state. This level of openness goes a long way in serving the public good and should be applauded.

  1. First and foremost, the department acknowledges that racial bias happens and that it affects our criminal justice system in ways that harm public well-being.
  2. They are digging into the data. Casady spent a week talking on his blog doing an analysis of the data and searching for explanations for the disparities. Again, we may not agree with the findings, but we applaud the analysis.
  3. They are attending public meetings and speaking with groups such as the NAACP that are concerned about racial profiling in Lincoln.

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