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Governor nixes proposal to relax police trainee standards for marijuana, drug use

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LINCOLN — Gov. Jim Pillen has rejected a proposed relaxation in drug-use standards to qualify for training as a Nebraska law enforcement officer, saying it could be viewed as a “watering down” of the standards.


A panel of state law enforcement officials had recommended the change as part of a broader effort to qualify more applicants for the necessary state training to work in law enforcement.

Currently, a recruit cannot have used marijuana for 24 months, or used a narcotic or other “dangerous drug” for five years. prior to being admitted to the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island.


Gov. Jim Pillen speaks at a press conference Wednesday in Kearney during an annual ag and economic development summit. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)


The Police Standards Advisory Council had proposed to lower the standards to 12 months for marijuana and three years for narcotics.


Not ‘prudent’


Pillen, in a July 18 letter rejecting the proposed rule change, said he didn’t think it was “prudent” to adopt such a change without data that shows “a significant number” of applicants are being rejected due to the current drug-use standards.


“It is therefore imperative that we have the necessary data before making a policy change that could be perceived as watering down the standards to become a law enforcement officer in the State of Nebraska,” Pillen wrote.


He urged the Police Standards Advisory Council to collect the data and, if they wish, resubmit their proposed rule change.


On Wednesday, the police council will meet to decide what to do next.


Data being sought


Brian Jackson, the president of the council and an assistant chief with the Lincoln Police Department, said that he and others on the council are seeking numbers on how many potential recruits have been disqualified due to the current drug standards.

Jackson said it was impossible to know how many potential applicants didn’t apply after learning of the drug-use standards, but he knows that some applicants have been disqualified, after applying, due to the current requirements.

Minimum standards

- The Nebraska Police Standards Advisory Board sets minimum standards to become a law enforcement officer for agencies across the state.

- Law enforcement agencies, such as those in Omaha, Lincoln and Sarpy County, which have their own training academies, can establish higher standards.


“There have been people who have been disqualified due to drug standards but there have been people who have been disqualified for other reasons,” he said.

“Not every idea is a good idea,” Jackson added.


He said multiple reasons exist for why fewer men and women are seeking to become law enforcement officers.


The proposed changes in training center entry requirements come as police agencies across Nebraska, and across the nation, struggle to attract new recruits, despite recent salary increases at some.


Negative publicity about police work, inspired in large part by police custody deaths such has the suffocation death of George Floyd during a police stop in Minneapolis, has been blamed for much of it.


Meanwhile, laws concerning marijuana use are relaxing across the country, with 23 states, including nearby Colorado and Minnesota, allowing recreational use of pot as of June 1, Reuters reported.


Recruiting has improved from ‘worst ever’


In February, the superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol described the volume of new trooper candidates as “the worst it’s ever been.”


The situation has improved somewhat since then — in February, the Patrol reported 69 vacant posts for state troopers out of an authorized force of 482 uniform officers. Just recently, the vacant post figure had dropped to around 60.


Staffing has also improved at the Lincoln Police Department, which hiked its starting pay to $64,000 — the highest in the state.


Lincoln television station KOLN/KGIN reported last month that Lincoln police were short 27 officers, or about 7% of the force, compared to 40 vacancies in June of 2022.


The proposed rule changes rejected by the governor included several other changes, though Pillen only mentioned the drug-use standards as problematic. The changes were a mixture of new requirements passed by the State Legislature to increase the professionalism of law enforcement officers, and attempts to attract more applicants.


The other changes include: allowing graduates of home schools to qualify for admittance for law enforcement training; requiring new recruits to undergo psychological testing to determining their fitness for the job; and disqualifying someone who was convicted of threatening violence, and not just using it.

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