Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers traveled to western Nebraska last week, stopping in Scottsbluff as he did outreach in the Panhandle.
Hilgers is just 2 1/2 months into the job after being elected in November and taking office in January.
“I’m really going out of Lincoln to really meet with law enforcement around the state,” he said when he sat down with the Star-Herald for an interview on Friday, March 17. Among the officials that he met with were Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman and Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer, who also serves as the city manager for Scottsbluff.
Hilgers said he aims to meet with law enforcement officials from all Nebraska counties in the coming months. One of the most important roles of the attorney general is to help guide criminal prosecutions, especially in rural counties where local county attorneys may turn to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office to lead prosecutions in serious crimes such as murder.
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“One of the most important roles of the attorney general is to help guide criminal prosecutions, and in particular outside of Lincoln and Omaha, in the more rural areas of Nebraska. So, for me to be able to be a good partner, it’s about getting out and meeting people, establishing relationships, building trust, listening, taking notes and seeing how we can best collaborate.”
One of those collaborations has been having an assistant attorney general stationed in western Nebraska for the last several years. Currently, former Scotts Bluff County Attorney Doug Warner serves in that role, prosecuting cases from the only satellite office that the state attorney general’s office has at the time. However, Hilgers said, Warner has been so successful in that role that the state attorney general’s office has asked for funds in its budget request to the Nebraska Legislature, seeking to add three additional satellite prosecutors in areas throughout the state.
“Doug has done an amazing job,” he said. “I think the attorney general presence on the ground in Scotts Bluff County has been very impactful and we want to expand to be able to expand on that model.”
It’s a win-win on lots of different levels, he said, putting in rural areas and saving costs for prosecutors to travel to rural areas for prosecutions. Though law enforcement can pick up the phone at any time to reach prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office, and often do, he said, it does strengthen relationships when law enforcement and prosecutors know each other, face-to-face.
It also helps augment the presence of attorneys in rural communities, he said. According to the Nebraska State Bar Association, currently 12 of Nebraska’s 93 counties have no lawyers practicing and 18 counties have three or fewer attorneys, something that is important in rural areas when addressing access to justice concerns.
In his meetings with law enforcement, Hilgers said that the most common issues are drug issues, with crimes involving fentanyl and methamphetamine being the most prevalent. On March 27-March 28, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office is hosting a two-day workshop that will bring together law enforcement with federal and state agencies, including the DEA, FBI and Department of Justice, to speak on the topic. He said that more than 100 law enforcement have registered for the seminar.
“We’re going to talk about how we continue to build relationships across silos so that we’re sharing information, sharing resources and working together to help fight against the scourge of increased drug use in Nebraska, and especially rural Nebraska.”
As a former senator, and Speaker of the House, legislative issues are “near and dear to my heart,” Hilgers said. However, in his first months as the Nebraska Attorney General, Hilgers said his office wasn’t involved in presenting any issues for consideration to the Nebraska Legislature, aside from focusing on its budget request. In addition to its request for additional satellite attorneys, he said, the attorney general’s office has asked for funds to increase its solicitor general office. The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office does serve in an advisory capacity, answering questions and doing so upon request.
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