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Editorial: Nebraska must end its inattention to collecting crime data
State Must Fix Problem

Editorial: Nebraska must end its inattention to collecting crime data

The Omaha Police Department and 16 other law enforcement agencies in Nebraska didn't fully report domestic violence statistics from 2014 through 2019.

Nebraska law requires that state and local agencies file important information with the state on key concerns, sometimes on annual basis, sometimes monthly. It’s important that elected officials and the public understand the number of children in foster care, for example, or how many inmates the state has paroled.

Or the number of Nebraskans who suffered physical abuse at the hand of their spouse or partner. Domestic abuse is one of the most grievous burdens a person can face.

It turns out, however, that dozens of Nebraska law enforcements agencies have failed to follow the 1997 state law requiring monthly reports on domestic abuse cases. In some cases, police or sheriff’s departments have neglected that reporting duty for years. The Omaha Police Department, the largest law enforcement agency in the state, hasn’t been compliant with the law since 2003.

In all, a World-Herald analysis by reporter Alia Conley found, some 73 agencies in 58 counties failed to send the Nebraska Crime Commission the required information on aggravated or simple domestic assaults or arrests in at least one year from 2014-19.

That failure can have consequences. It undermines the ability of government agencies and nonprofit groups that can provide help to Nebraskans suffering from such abuse and help policy-makers understand important trends in the state.

This woefully inadequate reporting raises doubts about the validity of Nebraska crime statistics overall. “Absolutely, it would be a lot of data that’s not there,” said Don Arp Jr., the Crime Commission’s executive director.

Melody Vaccaro, the executive director of the nonprofit Nebraskans Against Gun Violence, is blunt in describing the inadequacy of current crime data in Nebraska: “You can’t make any sort of assumptions, any sort of judgments about Nebraska data, because the data is junk.”

Vaccaro’s organization initially found the reporting failures when it sought last year to compile statewide statistics involving firearms.

Law enforcement officials in some cases said they weren’t aware they needed to file the reports. Others, at small agencies, described technological obstacles hindering timely reporting.

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But the law is the law: Police and sheriff’s departments don’t get to choose which laws they will obey. As Vaccaro says, “It is unambiguous, what their duty is to do.”

Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer says that he was unaware of the problem until contacted by The World-Herald and that his department is taking action to meet the reporting requirements. It’s frustrating — and incredible — that the Crime Commission says it will be able to log only new data, and not OPD’s previous years’ information.

The state has a responsibility to remove all technological obstacles to adequate crime-data reporting. The Crime Commission, law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders should confer and identify the needed options to solve the problem. The Nebraska Legislature should be prepared next year to amend the state budget to pay for the fixes.

Nebraska’s inattention to crime data reporting must end. The public needs confidence in the soundness of this important data — and, not least, that law enforcement agencies are actually obeying the law.

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