After Chauvin Conviction, Police Consensus On Reform Remains Elusive

Becky Sullivan | April 22, 2021
New York Police Department officers on patrol in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan last month. Foot patrols were increased following the mass shooting in Atlanta which killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent.
New York Police Department officers on patrol in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan last month. Foot patrols were increased following the mass shooting in Atlanta which killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent.Xinhua News Agency | Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

In the days since a jury in Minneapolis convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, many police officers and law enforcement organizations around the U.S. have expressed relief at the trial’s outcome.

After the video of Floyd’s death went viral last May, many sought to distance themselves from Chauvin, characterizing him as one of the so-called “bad apples” that spoil the reputation of officers who try to do things the right way.

“As we have said from the beginning, what Derek Chauvin did that day was not policing. It was murder. The jury has spoken and he will face consequences for his actions,” said Patrick Lynch, the president of New York City’s Police Benevolent Association, in a statement released Wednesday.

In a striking repudiation of Chauvin’s actions, 10 of his former colleagues at the Minneapolis Police Department testified against him during the trial, including police chief and star witness Medaria Arradondo, who said Chauvin’s restraint of Floyd “in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy.”

“We recognize that our community is hurting, and hearts are heavy with many emotions. However, I have hope,” said Arradondo in a statement after the verdict. “Together, we can find our moment to begin to heal.”

But some other police organizations — while not defending Chauvin’s actions — chose to decry what they saw as politicization of the judicial process or remained silent altogether.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union that represents officers in the Minneapolis Police Department, last summer disavowed once-member Derek Chauvin. The union has also resisted police reforms at the city and state level.

In a statement released Tuesday after the verdict, the union thanked the jury before declaring “there are no winners in this case.”

“We need the political pandering to stop and the race-baiting of elected officials to stop,” the statement read. “In addition, we need to stop the divisive comments and we all need to do better to create a Minneapolis we all love.”

The Minneapolis police union is part of a larger statewide group called the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, whose legal defense fund is paying for Derek Chauvin’s defense team.

That group told NPR it did not have any comment on the verdict. It also declined to share any information about how much it has spent so far. The case is not yet wrapped; Chauvin is due to be sentenced in eight weeks, and an appeal is likely to follow.

Reform efforts riven by disagreement

The trial and verdict have renewed calls for structural changes to policing, both around the U.S. and in the Twin Cities region, where the funeral of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man shot by police while resisting arrest as the Chauvin trial was underway, is taking place today.

“What if we just prevented the problem instead of having to try these cases?” said Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison after the verdict Tuesday. “We don’t want any more community members dying at the hands of law enforcement and their families’ lives ruined. We don’t want any more law enforcement members having to face criminal charges and their families’ lives ruined.”

The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it will investigate possible patterns of discrimination and excessive force among the Minneapolis Police Department, an inquiry Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told NPR he “welcomes.”

“I believe strongly that it’s an opportunity to continue working towards that deep change and accountability that we know that we need in the Minneapolis department,” Frey said.

Even as many states passed reform legislation last summer, including Minnesota, police reform remains a complicated endeavor due to the decentralized nature of law enforcement in the U.S.

There are more than 18,000 independent law enforcement agencies, some with thousands of sworn officers and many more with just a handful.

“The federal government doesn’t have authority to dictate how local law enforcement is provided, but they can certainly incentivize local law enforcement to follow standards or models,” said Sue Rahr, the former King County, Wash., sheriff who is soon retiring as head of Washington state’s police training commission.

A wide-ranging police reform bill bearing George Floyd’s name passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month. For federal law enforcement officers, it would ban chokeholds, no-knock warrants and racial and religious profiling, and put an end to qualified immunity. The bill would also encourage states to follow suit by making those bans a condition of federal aid.

But its prospects in the Senate, where it needs the support of at least 10 Republicans to overcome a filibuster, are uncertain.

“One of the things I say to [Republicans] is that until policing is transformed in the United States, don’t be surprised if police continue to have a reputation that becomes worse and worse every time one of these incidents is happening,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and the bill’s sponsor in the House, in an interview with NPR.

Bass is working with Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott of South Carolina, one of only three Republican African Americans in Congress. Scott, who proposed a Republican alternative last year that failed due to Democratic opposition, told reporters Wednesday that the group is “on the verge of wrapping this up in the next week or two.”

“We have a moment in time right now, and we need to seize that moment, take this and get it across the finish line,” said Bass.

NPR’s Martin Kaste contributed reporting.

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