State Patrol makes case for hiring additional workers

Published March 1, 2005
BY SCOTT BAUER
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Without hiring additional State Patrol troopers, some rural parts of the state will go underserved and the fight against methamphetamine and other growing crimes will be hindered, the Legislature’s budget-writing committee was told Monday.

The law enforcement community came out in support of Gov. Dave Heineman’s proposal to spend $2.6 million over the next two years to hire 21 more troopers. The funding was not included in the preliminary budget put together by the Appropriations Committee.

Complicating the problem is the eligibility of 34 troopers to retire this year, patrol Col. Tom Nesbitt told the committee. Given that it takes a year and a half from the time a recruit is signed up, completes training and hits the street, there could be a serious shortage in force strength soon, he said.

“There’s going to be a very significant impact on public safety and our agency and what we’re supposed to be doing here,” Nesbitt said.

Because of budget constraints, the patrol did not have a camp for new recruits last year, meaning there are no new hires in the pipeline to replace those who retired or fill the vacancies that were not staffed due to the budget cut. Nesbitt said a camp is planned for this year, but the lag in time before troopers are ready to join the force remains a concern.

Hiring additional troopers was supported by the Nebraska Sheriff’s Association, Norfolk Police Chief Bill Mizner speaking on behalf of the president of the Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska and Project Extra Mile, a group that works with police to fight underage drinking.

The committee is considering requests for additional funding as it works on its budget proposal for consideration before the full Legislature. The plan likely will be debated in May.

Committee chairman Sen. Don Pederson of North Platte said money for the troopers was not included in its initial plan because it was a restoration of a cut made in 2003, when the patrol went from money for 407 troopers to its current 386. The committee has a general policy of not restoring past cuts, he said.

Pederson asked Nesbitt what services the patrol has not been able to offer the past two years because of the reduction in force.

Nesbitt said fighting meth, additional homeland security obligations since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the growing crimes related to the Internet all drain resources. In some parts of the state, one trooper is assigned to cover 60 to 100 miles, Nesbitt said.

The committee also was lobbied to give the patrol another $20,000 to conduct compliance checks in the border town of Whiteclay where three stores sell thousands of cans of beer a week largely to residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation just across the border in South Dakota.

Nebraskans for Peace President Mark Vasina said the money would go a long way toward bolstering law enforcement in Whiteclay. Activists have tried for years to clamp down on liquor violations in the border town.

Nebraska is receiving $100,000 from the federal government to be used on law enforcement in Whiteclay, but Nesbitt said that money will be used to help fund the cross-deputization effort of police on the Pine Ridge reservation and will not be used by the patrol.

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