- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. September 15, 2017

Sweeps show tightening grip of drugs in prison

Illegal drugs continue to make their way into prisons. They’re hard to keep out, even in heavily monitored, controlled environments. The most effective prisons gather solid intelligence about inmate drug dealers and use prison guards to sweep cells and common areas to find and confiscate drugs.

Nebraska prison officials appear to be ramping up their disruptions of such contraband, which could deter some prison drug dealing.

In 2016, state prison employees filed 2,348 “intoxicant abuse” write-ups, up 37 percent from 2015, when they filed 1,714. The state’s prison in Tecumseh, where an inmate died in June after overdosing on illegal drugs, recorded 700 write-ups in 2016, a 239 percent increase from the year before.

These deterrence efforts might be working. Random drug tests found fewer inmates with drugs in their systems in 2016 than in 2015.

State prisons director Scott Frakes says the prison system is rebuilding units that gather intelligence. This work, with beefed-up sweeps, helped find an “unusual” and “significant” drug cache recently at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.

It’s disturbing to find an inmate hiding weapons, a cell phone and enough drugs and alcohol to serve as a prison distributor. But it’s important for prison officials to keep trying to make it harder to sell drugs behind bars.

The Nebraska State Patrol is still investigating how the weapons, cell phone, drugs and alcohol got into the prison. Once they have answers, Frakes and his staff can address any staff shortcomings, adjust their tactics and keep up the good fight.


Lincoln Journal Star. September 13, 2017

State Patrol right to hire from outside

The appointment last week of John Bolduc as the newest superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol checked off many boxes of the type of candidate many hoped to see fill the position.

He’s an experienced officer and supervisor who has worked in law enforcement for 31 years. To best serve and understand Nebraska’s distinct, diverse populations, his previous work and leadership in small communities, suburban areas and urban centers are a major bonus.

Most importantly, Bolduc pitched himself as a “cultural change agent,” one that Gov. Pete Ricketts said has extensive experience communicating to and improving the departments he’s led. The nominee received a unanimous recommendation from an accomplished search committee.

As an outsider, Bolduc is an ideal position to create the change needed in the State Patrol following turmoil and leadership under its previous superintendent.

In the press conference announcing his appointment, Bolduc acknowledged the State Patrol has problems that need to be overcome. With state officials publicly stating there was probable cause his predecessor, Col. Brad Rice, had committed a crime and forwarding the results of an internal investigation to the FBI, Bolduc knows he’s entering the job at a difficult time.

External allegations of improper use of force, mishandling of internal affairs, violations of anti-harassment and equal opportunity policies - the impact of actions before Bolduc’s appointment won’t simply disappear. He must be proactive and crystal clear in laying out his vision for the State Patrol’s future under his leadership and insisting such missteps won’t be tolerated.

The first step to preserving the credibility threatened by actions that predate his arrival isn’t to sweep them under the rug. Instead, new leadership must work with high-ranking officers to ensure such mistakes aren’t repeated and that the integrity and reputation of the State Patrol remain impeccable.

Two of the four finalists were captains in the State Patrol. To advance that far in the process, they’ve clearly served Nebraska admirably and must not have been involved in what Ricketts has called “interference in internal investigations at the highest level” of the department. These men will serve critical roles during the upcoming transition.

Still, a fresh start, under the command of a leader from an outside agency is the right call for the State Patrol at the present. The department needs to right its course and pursue a new direction - and a seasoned superintendent from a different background was a proper call.

Though Bolduc is slated to begin his new duties Oct. 16, he will require approval by the Legislature when it reconvenes in January. Lawmakers should confirm him and give him the free rein needed to pursue the cultural change he promised before his nomination.


Kearney Hub.  September 12, 2017

Let’s end stigma together

Kearney can be proud to have played a role during National Recovery Month by hosting Friday’s Light Up the Night Mental Health Awareness Walk/Run at Yanney Heritage Park. The event was intended to increase public awareness about mental illness and substance use disorders.

As participation in the walk/run demonstrated, a growing number of Nebraskans are working hard to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness and to boost hope among families experiencing mental issues. They are not alone. A surprisingly large number of individuals experience mental illness, and through family support and a determined spirit, they are able to live deeper and more meaningful lives, and medicine and science are advancing all of the time.

Of course, the problem with mental illness and substance disorders isn’t so much about a lack of progress in research and the development of treatments. The problem is the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

Many people may want to be supportive of people facing challenges, but knowledge about mental health among everyday friends and neighbors could be stronger. Stigma prevents people who should know more about how to help someone with mental illness or substance abuse problems from being knowledgeable and sensitive as they reach out.

Unfortunately, it’s the stigma that also causes people suffering from mental illness from stepping forward to seek and receive help from professionals and support from the people around them. Isolation is no way to confront a mental health challenge, yet so many people fear they’ll be shunned or ostracized if others know what they are going through.

It’s that unfortunate reality that makes events such as National Recovery Month so necessary.

We salute organizers of Friday’s walk at Yanney Park, and we congratulate everyone who stepped onto the track, either in support of an individual facing mental or substance challenges, or if they were stepping out of the shadows to accept support from friends and family and stand up for themselves.

Accepting support may be one of the toughest things someone with a mental illness does, but if there are people around who genuinely love and care for the person, it’s a great way to take those first steps forward.


McCook Daily Gazette. September 15, 2017

Lawmakers slowly chipping away at open government

Walk through the north door of the Nebraska state capitol and you’ll see a motto carved in stone over the doorway: “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen.”

A series of stories by the Associated Press to be released Sunday indicates that lawmakers nationwide are chipping away at that motto, in the name of fear, security or simple expediency.

In Arkansas, lawmakers passed a resolution marking the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, then passed a law preventing public access to information about the Capitol police force, those of universities or school security plans.

Nebraska lawmakers sought to keep secret the identity of suppliers of lethal-injection drugs, California rushed through a measure keeping dam safety emergency action plans secret, and Texas considered a plan to keep public records secret from anyone who didn’t live in Texas.

The Iowa House passed a bill to keep many 911 calls secret by calling them “medical records” after the AP used open records laws to write about gun-related accidents, but the law died in the Senate.

Iowa lawmakers did pass a law keeping secret detailed annual financial statements of the state’s 19 licensed casinos, records that had been public for decades.

Florida passed a law requiring records of criminal charges that result in acquittal or dismissal to be automatically sealed, and Kansas proposed a law that would keep the state database of fired police officers secret after a Wichita television station exposed the backgrounds of officers with checkered pasts, including a chief facing federal investigation.

Even more ominously, some agencies have resorted to suing people who make requests for public records, examples include an Oregon parent who wanted details about school employees paid to stay home, a retired educator seeking data about student performance in Louisiana, and college journalists in Kentucky seeking documents about investigations of employees accused of sexual misconduct.

Instead of the information, they received notices that they were being sued by the agency receiving the request, contending release of information would deny employees due process.

Our reporters have found information more difficult to obtain with the switch from paper records to computerized files - either through technical difficulties in viewing the actual files, unaffordable expense or other hindrances.

And, suggestions that the City Council and other local government bodies do away with the three-reading rule are alarming.

Professional journalists will continue to do their part, but in the end, it truly is the watchfulness of the average citizen, insisting on timely release of appropriate, accurate information, that will be the salvation of the state.


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