By Sam Ozer-Staton
Long before the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the future of American policing was at the center of the national discourse. But Tuesday’s guilty verdict — on all three counts — poses new questions for the institution of policing. Most fundamentally, will the verdict spur real change?
In recent days, there has been no shortage of words written about that question. The New York Times’s David Leonhardt wrote an accessible explainer of the policy changes being implemented by state and local governments across the country. The reforms, which are substantive if not radical, mainly fall under two buckets: limiting police use of force (like banning so-called “neck restraints”) and creating additional mechanisms for accountability (like requiring officers to wear body cameras).
Others, like Mark Berman and Kimberly Kindy at The Washington Post, have written about whether the fact of Chauvin’s guilty verdict will incentivize individual prosecutors to bring charges against police officers who act unlawfully.
But aside from the concrete legal and policy changes stemming from Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd, there is also an ongoing cultural debate about how Americans understand the police, and about how police understand themselves.
Following Chauvin’s conviction, former NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks told CNBC: “The blue wall is crumbling. In other words, we have police chiefs, we have the rank-and-file of policing in this country simply saying, ‘that is too much.’ What we need, however, is for policing and for police officers to not merely note that the wall is cracking, they need to bring the wall down.”
Indeed, many high-profile national voices in the policing community have strongly condemned Chauvin’s actions, from the moment the video of his murder became public until the moment he was convicted. And during Chauvin’s trial, a number of officials within the Minneapolis Police Department testified against him, including the chief who fired him last year.
“It’s a good thing for citizens, so they can see there’s accountability,” Ronal Serpas, a former police chief in New Orleans and Nashville, told The Washington Post on Thursday. “It’s a good thing for cops, so they can see there’s accountability. Police officers don’t want to work with murderers. And Chauvin’s a murderer now.”
But others in the law enforcement community are more skeptical about the implications of the current political climate on the future of policing.
“So much is being thrown at us as law enforcement officials,” said Inspector Charles Adams, the commander in Derek Chauvin’s former Minneapolis police precinct, in an interview with the New York Times. “We’re unsure how we’re going to police in the future.”
Jim Pasco, the director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, told the Times: “[Rank-and-file officers] are thinking ‘Man, I’ve got to think long and hard before I get out of my car and get into something I don’t have to get into.’”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a “pattern-or-practice inquiry” into the Minneapolis Police Department. According to a DOJ explainer, pattern-or-practice investigations have been employed “in communities across the nation to reform serious patterns and practices of excessive force, biased policing and other unconstitutional practices by law enforcement.”
In a Trump DOJ that was wary of investigating police departments, tools like pattern-or-practice inquiries fell out of favor. But last week, Attorney General Garland restored the use of consent decrees and called pattern-or-practice investigations “an important tool of the Justice Department to ensure police accountability.”
Do you anticipate that Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction — and the current national discourse around policing — will lead to meaningful changes? How do you hope to see policing change?
Let us know what you think by writing to us at [email protected]