LINCOLN, Neb. – Today, the ACLU of Nebraska released a new report focusing on how law enforcement agencies serve Nebraskans with limited English proficiency. The report compares 19 agencies’ efforts to U.S. Department of Justice guidance, finding most of the agencies are not meeting the department’s recommendations to ensure best practices.
The report’s title is “Justice in any Language.” It focuses on agencies in counties with the highest percentages of Nebraskans who speak a language other than English at home. Census numbers show nearly 5% of Nebraskans have limited English proficiency (LEP) and 11.5% of Nebraskans speak a language other than English at home.
Federal law requires law enforcement agencies that receive federal funds to ensure people with limited English proficiency have meaningful language access to agency services.
Among the ACLU of Nebraska’s findings:
- 16 of 19 surveyed agencies did not make their policy or guidance on language assistance services publicly available.
- 12 of 19 surveyed agencies did not have instructions for their officers on how and when to access language assistance services in different situations, such as interviews, interrogations, or traffic stops.
- 12 of 19 surveyed agencies did not track how often officers have used language assistance services.
- 14 of 19 surveyed agencies did not have any officers who have attended training on the topic.
- 4 of 19 surveyed agencies do not employ a multilingual officer.
Rose Godinez, legal and policy counsel, authored the report and said it’s linked to a common concern. The civil rights organization periodically hears from Nebraskans who believe officers did not navigate a language barrier appropriately.
“Nebraska law enforcement agencies have made progress by intentionally recruiting multilingual officers, but we remain deeply concerned that law enforcement agencies are not meeting the needs of Nebraskans with limited English proficiency as required by federal law and recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice,” Godinez said. “As a Spanish-speaker, I understand how important it is that we can access law enforcement services or assert our rights regardless of the language we speak. Language accessibility supports public safety and helps protect the constitutional rights of all Nebraskans.”
The report features commentary from leaders serving Nebraska’s Hispanic and Latinx communities, including Anna Deal, J.D., legal director for the Immigrant Legal Center.
“Where police and immigrants cannot communicate effectively, confusion and fear are made worse,” Deal wrote. “Meaningful language accessibility for individuals with LEP is therefore critical to enabling immigrant and refugee community members to advance their rights, and to fostering trust and cooperation with law enforcement. Our communities are safer when everyone, regardless of languages spoken, feels valued and heard by those entrusted to keep us safe.”
The report comes three years after the ACLU of Nebraska’s investigation into racial bias in traffic stops. The organization’s 2019 report “Equality Before the Stop” found Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Indigenous drivers were overrepresented in traffic stops, searches and arrests. The report helped build support for a 2020 law requiring Nebraska law enforcement officers to take at least two hours of anti-bias or implicit bias training each year.