Oh, Minneapolis, What’s Become of You?

“Let me put this bluntly. There is no love there. The officers present did not love one another for if they did one or more would have stepped forward early on, put a calm hand on Officer Chauvin’s shoulder and said, ‘Hey, Derek, I’ll take over now. You take a rest.’”

The Arrest of George Floyd

As a 60-year practitioner and observer of our nation’s police, I have to say I am not surprised. One reaps what one sows. Since 2014 and the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, our nation has viewed incident after incident of questionable use of force by police with little change in police behavior. Since 2014, when journalists (not governmental statisticians) started counting the number of people whose lives were taken by police, the numbers remain relatively the same – 900 – 1,000 deaths each year.

We had a lot of discussion about the rules of using deadly force from the USCC decision “objective reasonableness” to the European Union’s “absolute necessity.” We talked about policy and training improvements, practicing de-escalation, peer intervention, and “unconscious bias.” [More about peer intervention here.]

Looking back, I think about the phrase, “The more things change, the more they remain the same” from the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”). While some folks think a lot has changed with regard to how police are to use force; discussions, new training and policy development – the more it stayed the same on the street.

Enter now Officer Derek Chauvin, member of a department in which I served for seven years as a patrol officer and detective. Chauvin the officer whom the nation has seen kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a man handcuffed and struggling to breath. You might not have seen that Chauvin has his hands in his pockets appearing quite nonchalant.

I want to start with Officer Chauvin because what his bosses preached to him, his training officers coached him, and his supervisors neglected to do has not to do with technique, but, as I myself have preached these long years of writing this blog, it about attitude and that comes from the heart – and it is hands-on, nose-to-nose leadership that enables rank-and-file police officers to develop the necessary compassion in order to properly police others and control the unconscious racial bias that most of us, who are white, have residing within us.

It would be difficult for me to believe that Chauvin had no disciplinary record. The news has reported had been in one deadly shooting and at the scene of others. (I might not that it is reported that only 1% of citizen complaints are founded by police investigators. That says a lot.)

How could this have been prevented? What should police be doing most of them are not? Remember, to “rat” on a fellow cop in most departments will eventually lead to such an officer resigning or being fired. It’s a big part of why we find ourselves where we are today. The policing subculture goes like this: Cops must depend on the physical backup from other cops, now everyone makes mistakes, so if you don’t “back the blue” you’re an outsider, a troublemaker and you need to get out of here.

So, what’s the answer? How can this be changed so that cops don’t have to be put in the position of “ratting” on one another? It’s called Peer Intervention Training.

In the past, I have written about the importance of incorporating this idea peer into the ranks of our nation’s police. To simplify things, the training goes like this: As a police leader I would introduce the topic by saying we all care for one another, don’t we? I mean we have this brother/sisterhood as police, don’t we? We work together and support one another. Many of us would take a bullet to save a fellow officer, right?

But we are sworn to protect citizens as well. Good street tactics involve everyone going home safe after work — and that includes the folks we have to arrest.

Michael Quinn, interestingly a Minneapolis police officer (now retired) developed an effective system for assuring officer and citizen safety called “Peer Intervention.” He has trained police in this technique and written about it in his book, “Walking With the Devil: The Police Code of Silence.”

The concept is actually quite simple. “I agree to permit you to intervene in what I am doing or failing to do that could cause me to be embarrassed, lose my job, or be jailed. In exchange, I want you make the same commitment to me. Can we agree, pledge to this, and share with others this commitment?”

Let’s take a look at the video of the arrest and death of George Floyd. Floyd is handcuffed and lying face down on the ground while a police officer kneels on his neck. He is yelling that he cannot breathe. Other officers standby and do nothing.

Let me put this bluntly. There is no love there. The officers present did not love one another for if they did one or more would have stepped forward early on, put a calm hand on Officer Chauvin’s shoulder and said, “Hey, Derek, I’ll take over now. You take a rest.”

Why? Because other officers at the scene should have sensed and cared that the arresting officer was out of control; was going too far when he kneeled on Floyd’s neck. Love in policing means we truly care for one another. A loving intervention would not only have saved Floyd, but Chauvin as well.

I worked on the Minneapolis Police Department early in my career as a patrol officer, trainer, and detective. Over the years, I have watched various political administrations and police chiefs attempt to reform the department with little to no success. I even thought at one time about applying to head up the department and undertake needed reforms there. But I quickly came to my senses.

First of all, and let’s be clear, the police union president is really the de facto police leader. It was this way in my days when union president Chuck Stenvig was elected mayor of the city for three terms. I had a run-in with Stenvig when I was chief of police in Burnsville and selected to be chief of the University of Minnesota Police Department. Stenvig kicked up a fuss (I wrote about it in my book “Arrested Development”). The short version is this: Stenvig publicly told the University President Malcom Moos that if I was to be appointed Stenvig would prohibit Minneapolis Police from coming on campus to quell the continuing campus anti-war protests. Of course, the students loved this and gave me tremendous support. Moos didn’t and I ended up in Madison! (An interesting side note is today’s university president, Joan Gabe, stated she is not going to allow Minneapolis police on campus.)

For years, the police chief in Minneapolis served at the pleasure of the mayor. A newly elected mayor brought in an entirely new command staff based on who had supported him in the last election. Even when citizen reforms had the city charter changed to permit a contract and term of office for the chief. Still, few improvements were made.

Throughout the years, the department was known as a “kick ass” police department. The death of Mr. Floyd made that evident once again.

I wish that this was just about Minneapolis, but it’s really about policing in America. Everything Minneapolis is struggling with regarding its relationships with people of color in the city applies just about to every other large city police department.

It’s not that we don’t collectively know what to do, it’s that we just don’t know how to make it stick.