Roundtable: How will policy, training and police response change after the Chauvin verdict?
Veteran LEOs discuss the impact the George Floyd case and the Chauvin verdict will have on law enforcement
Since the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, demands for police reform, police defunding and the redirection of calls for service to other agencies spread nationwide. Some states have passed legislation that addresses police use of force, body-camera use, qualified immunity and officer decertification.
On April 20, 2021, a Minnesota jury found ex-police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers involved in the incident will go to trial in August on charges they aided and abetted second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter of Floyd.
In this Police1 roundtable, we asked LE veterans for their views on the Chauvin verdict and its impact on law enforcement policy, training and response. Read on for their opinions and share your thoughts in the box below.
Care of custody
With the announcement of three guilty verdicts against Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, there is a strong indicator that America wants a high bar when law enforcement officers use force.
Past Supreme Court cases agree with law enforcement professionals that policing is a dangerous and difficult job. The conduct of the perpetrator was always considered as a factor in when, why and how force was applied. Considerations were given to the crime accused, the cooperation acquiesced, resistance given, and the health and intoxication or impairment levels. That is to say, prosecutors, judges and jurors considered the contributing behaviors of the accused offender.
It is not surprising, given this past decade, and over the course of the pandemic, that police use of force has been scrutinized and condemned as never seen before. The expectation of law enforcement as those who would subdue and capture offenders has changed, in the public eye, to being a protector and caretaker of all ‒ including the accused.
Of course, once the accused was taken into custody, law enforcement officers have had the obligation of protecting those in custody from harm, even self-harm, in some cases. Violent custodies have been known to kick out cruiser windows or even doors. Some may strike their heads against the passenger compartment until unconscious. Officers are faced with allowing the individual to exhaust themselves or remove them until an ambulance responds.
Care for those in custody or even those not in custody but in the throes of an opioid stupor, has fallen to the care of responding officers. Public safety officers are equipped with first aid kits, tourniquets, trauma kits and Narcan to revive those dying from overdoses. Decades ago, this assortment of lifesaving gear could be found on a rescue ambulance. It is now commonplace in the trunk of police cruisers.
Officers are sometimes caught in a dilemma of how to handle an individual in their custody who may be injured, bleeding and violently resisting. The individual may require medical care and even ambulance transport in cases. Several iterations of containing these individuals ranged from harnesses, “wraps,” “hobbles,” “spit hoods” and more. In a few cases, responding medics have administered ketamine to calm a violent resisting suspect.
Consequences from some of the restraints have included injury or death from excited delirium and contributing causes from pre-existing medical conditions.
Some jurisdictions have outlawed many of these techniques and devices. In New York, they have made it a crime if an officer attempts to lying on top of a resisting suspect to restrain them.
Clearly, officers may use force to overcome resistance, but once in custody, as the Chauvin case indicates, officers will be held to a standard of care to be given to those in their care. Expect to see training guidelines given in regard to those in crisis, experiencing medical or health conditions, or those who may have suffered injuries prior to or during apprehension.
Police chiefs and sheriffs should request from the Department of Justice alternatives for restraining suspects in custody. Training should address holds, equipment and procedures for the care of those in custody who may be violently resisting or show indications of drug influence, injury, or mental crisis.
A community effort
By Chip Huth, a senior consultant for The Arbinger Institute and a police major with 30 years of law enforcement experience
Please note, I am NOT claiming to have the answers to all that ails the police profession and the communities served. These problems represent technically complex, multi-variant issues that are virtually impossible to understand exhaustively.
However, what most reasonable people intuitively grasp is that it requires comprehensive community partnerships to understand and respond appropriately to the public’s ever-shifting expectations. As political leadership and police executives come and go, there must be an intentional unfolding of a long-term strategy that unifies policy, operations and tactics around vital relationships and community partnerships.
With the ultimate goal of a safe, secure and prosperous community, the penultimate goal must be high-quality, high-trust relationships between police and all community members. These two goals must be the azimuth guideposts of all long-term policy, strategies, operations and tactics.
How do we foster high-quality, high-trust relationships? For the sake of brevity, here’s is a VERY brief overview:
- Separate the signal from the noise ‒ act upon the signal as if the life of your profession, your community and your nation depended upon it.
- Learn and extract from other high-risk professions’ processes that have proven effective over time:
- Fire: Have as a functional framework that for all policy, operations and tactics the first principle is prevention (help things go right) rather than a reaction to what has gone wrong.
- Airlines: Honor the human reality by supplementing policy, training and doctrine with a system similar to crew resource management.
- Medicine: “Informed consent” and “sorry” works.
- Policing can no longer be seen as transactional. Instead, policing must be reimagined as a corporate effort in which the entire community ‒ police and non-police ‒ work together to co-create a safe environment that will provide valid opportunities for each person to meaningfully contribute to the betterment of society.
Policies, police oversight and precedent
By Lt. Mike Walker, a 29-year veteran of local and federal law enforcement
I think we can look for three key takeaways from the Derek Chauvin murder trial. Each takeaway will also bring a host of ripple effects that will vary according to the specific dynamics of each community.
- Policies: Look for more agencies to begin overhauling policies regarding lethal and non-lethal use of force, along with their use of body-worn recording devices. Also, look for changes in how officers interact with emotionally disturbed individuals and those with chemical addictions. These policies will bring new procedures that will require new training evolutions, tactics, equipment and more integration regarding the governance and execution roles of non-law enforcement entities such as emergency medical responders and mental health crisis professionals. I would also expect to see new policies that are much more restrictive than what is allowed under our current state and federal laws.
- Police oversight: All agencies will be asked to be more transparent in their activities and interactions with the community. More agencies will work with independent review boards charged with oversight review responsibilities such as conducting audits and investigations regarding agency conduct, complaints and critical incident response. Also, look for review boards to be more involved in the selection process for new hires – from patrol officers to the chief executive.
- Precedent: Following the trial and guilty verdict, we now have a new legal precedent. Going forward it will influence the way that any similar case is judged and will be referenced in findings for motions and appeals. Unlike statutory law, which can be both enacted and repealed by a legislature, case law will forever become part of our common law. The findings and arguments used in the Chauvin trial will set the bar for similar cases not only in Minnesota but potentially in most of our state court systems.
Policing has to be a values-driven profession
By Barry Reynolds, director of The Center for Excellence in Public Safety Leadership and associate professor of criminal justice at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee
His body pressed into the dirt and grit of a Minneapolis street, a man died.
He died needlessly. Some will eventually argue that he may have died anyway, even without the weight of another man pressed on his back and neck. Yet, he died just the same.
To be sure, the final analysis will show that it was not simply the weight of one man dispassionately kneeling on his victim that caused this tragedy, but rather the accumulated weight of years of systematic failures, each consisting of their own cumbersome and coalesced mass of heartbreak and ignorance. This collective pressure on a fragile mortal soul proved more than one man could survive and may prove likewise to historical limits of professional tolerance.
Over two weeks in a small courtroom in Minnesota it was argued that the actions of the murderer were not only reasonable but also consistent with the training he had received during his professional career. It was argued that his techniques, although perhaps excessively applied, were no different than many other similar applications of such use of force in comparable situations. It was argued that it was a simple, but unfortunate, sequence of circumstances that caused the victim to cease breathing and die.
Let this be the last time that a profession defends itself or its members on the basis of policies or training that fail to concede to even the most basic values of human decency and compassion. A true profession does not lower itself to the depths of its most shameful episodes. A true profession honors the values upon which it is defined as its own true lifeblood and raison d’etre and firmly rejects all other implications.
Just as certain as the judge’s announcement of the requisite measure of justice rang through that courtroom at 4:10 p.m. on April 20, he also confirmed that those who stand for values, uncompromised and without reservations, will be the standard-bearers for a profession that now must evolve, and reconcile its own history of failures against those that have a grievance.
While the actions of one former police officer on a hot and humid holiday weekend were on trial this month, in many respects so was the existence of those segments within a profession that have failed to fully evolve and live up to the purpose of its most noble calling.
Policing is a noble profession. But within that principled calling also resides the onus to constantly raise the bar of expectations in the pursuit of justice and equity. A noble profession ceases to exist when values are stymied by the words of policy manuals used to justify actions that tread on the wrong side of morality. The history of this trial will show that, at its most critical moment, the morality of policing rose to defend itself against the insult on its values.
The true outcome that emanated from those courtroom machinations, all theatrics aside, is the inevitability that when a profession relies solely upon policies to define behavior and performance, those policies can and do, hide failures. Policy failures, left unchecked against the tenets of uncompromising integrity, will only ensure to replicate courtroom scenes such as we have just witnessed.
The man who kneeled on George Floyd and pressed him into the grit and dirt of that Minneapolis street did not need a policy telling him when to let up. He needed a personal and professional set of values which made such an act unconscionable.
A values-driven profession must never allow that to happen again.
Change starts in training
By Lt. Dan Marcou, internationally recognized police trainer who was a highly decorated officer with 33 years of law enforcement experience
If I had one thing to say, after the Derek Chauvin verdict, it would be to repeat what I said in training police officers, countless times over the years and three times in italics and capital letters on page 196 of the 2018 release, “Street Survival Two, Tactics for Deadly Encounters.” I would say:
“Don’t put your knee on the suspect’s neck or spine.”
I don’t know if Derek Chauvin ever heard those words in training, but if he would have not only heard them but also have taken them to heart, the world would never have heard of Derek Chauvin.