LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A bill touted by Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration as a way to improve transparency and accountability in the Nebraska State Patrol following several high-profile misconduct cases drew strong criticism Monday from the union that represents patrol troopers.
The measure presented to a legislative committee would prevent the union from bargaining on issues related to trooper discipline and internal investigations. It also would remove sergeants from the bargaining unit because of their role in handling internal investigations.
Nebraska Chief Human Resources Officer Jason Jackson said the bill would allow state oversight officials and the public to know when an officer has faced disciplinary action.
Jackson said sergeants should not be part of the bargaining unit because they often have to investigate fellow union members, a perceived conflict of interest.
“We didn’t arrive at these recommendations lightly,” Jackson said in testimony to the Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee.
Nebraska Crime Commission Director Darrell Fisher said the current union contract prohibits the patrol from releasing internal investigation files in many cases, which has prevented his agency from investigating eight claims against officers and potentially revoking their certifications. A second bill pending in the Legislature would give the commission the power to subpoena such records.
Gary Young, an attorney for the State Troopers Association of Nebraska, said the attempt to pull sergeants out of the unit was financially motivated and had been raised as an issue in previous negotiations. Young and several patrol employees argued that sergeants have more in common with rank-and-file troopers than managers.
“I think they see this as an opportunity to change the bargaining landscape because there are controversies,” Young said.
While lieutenants and higher-ranking officers work in offices, sergeants perform many of the same duties as troopers, said Nebraska State Patrol Sgt. J.J. Pedersen.
Pedersen said removing them could hurt recruiting and retention efforts, damage morale and make others less likely to seek the ranking. Pedersen said he took a pay cut when he became a sergeant because he knew he would receive longer-term benefits, and removing sergeants from the bargaining unit could eliminate those.
Several recent incidents have led to a shake-up at the agency. Former Superintendent Brad Rice was fired in July after a personnel investigation found that Nebraska State Patrol leaders tried to influence the outcome of at least four internal reviews, failed to disclose a dozen alleged cases of trooper misconduct and didn’t properly investigate sexual harassment accusations.
In December, the patrol’s new superintendent, Col. John Bolduc, announced that one trooper was fired, two officers stepped down and two others were punished following a probe into allegations that the agency mishandled internal investigations.
One incident involved a South Dakota man who was killed in Sheridan County when a trooper used a tactical maneuver to bump his vehicle during a high-speed chase. The other involved a trooper in Sioux County who was shown on video striking an intoxicated man in the head with a rifle butt after the man ignored orders to get on the ground.
Bolduc said the legislation would help ensure that the agency remains accountable to the public.
“I believe this is the right thing, not only for accountability and for our agency, but for our profession,” he said.