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Flood, Bostar work with Nebraska law enforcement to lure out-of-state officers

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Flood, Bostar work with Nebraska law enforcement to lure out-of-state officers

Feb 20, 2024 | 9:27 pm ET
By Aaron Sanderford
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Flood, Bostar work with Nebraska law enforcement to lure out-of-state officers
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Democratic State Sen. Eliot Bostar and U.S. Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., discuss a new state benefit they think will help recruit more out-of-state law enforcement officers to Nebraska. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — U.S. Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., and Democratic State Sen. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln hope to lure out-of-state law enforcement officers to Nebraska by promoting a new state education benefit aimed at their kids.

The two lawmakers on Tuesday emphasized state efforts to encourage more law enforcement officers to consider relocating to the Cornhusker State, where Flood and Bostar say the general public still respects their work.

Flood, Bostar work with Nebraska law enforcement to lure out-of-state officers
U.S. Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., promotes the benefits Tuesday of out-of-state law enforcement officers moving to Nebraska. He touted a last year’s new program passed by State Sen. Eliot Bostar of Lincoln. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Flood, flanked by local police chiefs, sheriffs and the colonel of the Nebraska State Patrol, touted Bostar’s bill from 2023 that pays college and community college tuition for law enforcement officers and their dependents.

He said Nebraska is the only state to do so. Flood and Bostar met with more than 30 people in Nebraska law enforcement Tuesday to discuss how they might leverage Nebraska’s increased pay, higher quality of life and education benefit to boost hiring.

The group discussed with Flood how various police agencies in the state might work together to recruit potential new hires during Police Week in Washington, D.C., in May. That gathering often attracts law enforcement officers from all over. 

“Our message today, while very important today in Nebraska, is really a message to the rest of America,” Flood said. “Nebraska embraces and supports our law enforcement community.”

His pitch: “This state is ready to accommodate you with benefits that no other states can match.”

Positive feedback on program

Bostar said he’s heard a lot of positive feedback about Legislative Bill 727, the First Responder Recruitment and Retention Act. It expanded a tuition waiver for law enforcement officers to include paid firefighters and dependents.

Last fall, 80 students collected the benefit at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 31 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, at least five at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and six at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Flood, Bostar work with Nebraska law enforcement to lure out-of-state officers
Nebraska State Patrol Col. John Bolduc discusses how a new state benefit for the dependents of law enforcement officers is helping him hold onto more experienced troopers. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

“I’m hearing from departments across the state that they are seeing folks stay on the job longer than they would have,” Bostar said. “It’s about letting folks outside of Nebraska know what benefits they can have by doing this job in Nebraska.”

State and local law enforcement, including Norfolk Police Chief Don Miller, Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner and Nebraska State Patrol Col. John Bolduc, said the new benefit had made it easier to retain experienced officers, deputies and troopers.

“We are all dealing with retention issues,” Miller said.

Miller said staffing at his northeast Nebraska department is down about 25%, which forces some officers to work longer shifts and more overtime. He said Norfolk is making new hires and the new state benefits are helping, but they’d like to import help.

Wagner said that his staffing is down about 10%, and that he has many deputies hired in the 1980s. He said the new benefits are helping him hold onto some older deputies who had considered retiring but have kids. Bolduc said his staffing is down 12%.

“We have about 15 people in our new class, which will help,” Bolduc said. “But we could always use more.”

Demographic cliff

At issue is the same demographic cliff affecting all industries in Nebraska. More people are retiring or on the verge than are joining the workforce. One factor, several said, is that fewer people are picking law enforcement as a career. 

Flood and Bostar hope the educational benefit makes the job more attractive. People who want to go back to school or cover the costs of a child going to school could cut significant costs off a degree program, they said.

Flood, Bostar work with Nebraska law enforcement to lure out-of-state officers
Norfolk Police Chief Don Miller talks about staffing shortages in law enforcement. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Flood and Bostar said they wanted to hear more about what is working in Bellevue, where officials said they are getting more applicants from Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. 

Flood’s office has launched a website to share with interested applicants eyeing local law enforcement jobs, https://flood.house.gov/services/back-blue-resources. The page mentions state support for protecting qualified immunity for officers.

Some who have alleged mistreatment by police argue that the legal standard required to hold law enforcement officers accountable is too high and ends up protecting bad actors. Flood said it is a sign that Nebraska believes in its officers.

“That is the kind of love and affection Nebraskans have for law enforcement,” he said.