Neb. gov. rejects proposal to relax police recruit standards for marijuana, narcotics
An advisory council suggested reducing the time requirement for a recruit to not have consumed marijuana within 12 months and three years for drugs
By Sarah Roebuck
LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen has rejected a proposal that would ease the drug-use criteria for eligibility in becoming a law enforcement officer, expressing concerns that such a move might be interpreted as a dilution of the established standards, the Nebraska Examiner reports.
A group of state law enforcement representatives had suggested this modification as a part of a broader initiative to increase the pool of applicants who qualify for the mandatory state training to join the law enforcement sector.
Currently, a prospective recruit must not have consumed marijuana within the last 24 months, nor used a narcotic or any other "dangerous drug" for a period of five years prior to admission into the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center.
The Police Standards Advisory Council recommended reducing the requirements to 12 months for marijuana and three years for narcotics.
In a July 18 letter, Pillen, while declining the proposed rule alteration, expressed his reservation about implementing this change without substantial data indicating a noteworthy count of applicants being turned away due to the prevailing drug-use criteria.
“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 encouraged the Police Standards Advisory Council to gather the necessary data and, if they want, submit their proposed rule modification once again.
Brian Jackson, council president and assistant chief at the Lincoln Police Department, mentioned that he and fellow council members are actively pursuing data regarding the count of prospective recruits who have been deemed ineligible based on the existing drug criteria.
Jackson stated that determining the exact number of potential applicants who chose not to apply upon discovering the drug-use benchmarks is challenging. However, he confirmed that certain candidates have indeed been disqualified post-application due to the current prerequisites.
“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.
He explained that there are several factors contributing to the reduced interest among both men and women in pursuing careers as law enforcement officers.
These suggested adjustments to the entry prerequisites for training centers coincide with the ongoing challenge police departments in Nebraska and nationwide are facing in recruiting new candidates, even with certain agencies having implemented salary hikes.
Recruiting has improved
Back in February, the head of the Nebraska State Patrol characterized the influx of new trooper candidates as "the most challenging it has ever been."
Since that time, the situation has seen some improvement. In February, the Patrol stated that there were 69 unfilled positions for state troopers, out of a total authorized strength of 482 uniformed officers. More recently, this number of vacant positions has decreased to around 60.
Along those same lines, staffing levels at the Lincoln Police Department have also shown enhancement. The department raised its initial salary to $64,000, which is now the highest starting pay among law enforcement agencies in the state.
The governor's rejection of the proposed rule modifications encompassed various other changes, although Pillen specifically highlighted the drug-use standards as concerning. These modifications consisted of a blend of fresh prerequisites approved by the State Legislature to enhance the professionalism of law enforcement officers and endeavors aimed at drawing in a larger pool of applicants.