The Derek Chauvin trial and shootings of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo by the police have renewed calls for police reform. A Marshall Project investigation, which reviewed 10 large city departments and its field trainers, found that the officers and their training methods are one of the biggest roadblocks to police reform. Marshall Project staff writer Simone Weischelbaum joins.
The Derek Chauvin trial and the police shootings of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo have renewed conversations on police training and de-escalation tactics. But despite mandates for training reform, roadblocks remain — often with the officers tasked with the training.
Last year, The Marshall Project reviewed 10 large city departments and the records of their field training officers.
Simone Weischelbaum is a staff writer with The Marshall Project and joined me from New York to discuss their findings.
Simone, something that's been a little distressing in the last few cases of police actions against individuals is the role that trainers play. What is a field trainer for people who aren't familiar with it?
So after you graduate the academy, you're not just a cop on the street, you're actually on probation. And you spend a couple of weeks or a couple of months, in some places up to a year, following a veteran officer. And that person sort of becomes your teacher of the streets. That is a person who actually tells you, hey, more or less forget everything you learned at the academy. This is the way it goes, kid.
In the case of Derek Chauvin, he was a trainer. In the situation with Kim Potter, she was a trainer. Is there something that distinguishes these individuals to get that position to be a mentor?
That there's not much. You would think in most professions to become a mentor, to become a trainer, you go through rigorous vetting, you go through some sort of training. In policing, that's not always the case.
I only found one police department in my research on this, a place in Texas that actually has rigorous training to become an FTO. This has been a longstanding problem in policing. Field trainers are just treated like a regular cop, but they have special powers.
What kind of powers?
They are molding the minds of our next generation. So if you think about what happened with Derek Chauvin, a field trainer, the defense of those cops at the scene, why did they intervene? Well, they said that was our FTO, that was our trainer. We're learning from him. We didn't really feel comfortable to say, hey, stop doing this. And that's their defense right now.
In your research last year, you were looking back beyond George Floyd. How far back does this go?
This goes back to my research, at least to the early 2000s, the way I was flagged to this, I have done stories looking at consent decrees and how they're implemented by the DOJ. And a common thread is FTO, we have to change the way these folks are trained, how they're paid, who we're choosing and departments, Baltimore has actually answered that.
Baltimore, in their Freddie Gray case, the gentleman driving that van was an FTO, also another cop had seen with Freddie Gray, his trainer testified too that, yes, we did not teach them the proper way of strapping in a suspect. So I say this because if you go back into consent decrees for more than 10 years, this has been flagged. It also came up in the Tamir Rice case.
Is there a way for you or anyone to be able to search through all of these incidents? I mean, does there exist any kind of a repository?
There is no repository, sadly. I mean, they're not really repositories on how much use of force is used. We're working on a story now looking at how is forced even defined? A kick in one city may not equal force in another city is what we're finding in our next project that's coming out in May.
So, of course, if you don't even know how to define use of force, how are you going to have a database looking at who's a field trainer? And that's a big problem, I think people don't understand. In our country we have 18,000 police departments, we don't have a national police force, so we don't really have national standards.
Do police officers or field trainers have to be kind of up on what the latest restraint tactics are, what's a reasonable hold and what's not?
Most police officers have to go through sometimes 40 hours, at least, a year learning how to fire their gun. New tactics like de-escalation, that's a big buzzword right now. What I found for FTOs, they're not necessarily going through even more training. For the most part, I found, to become an FTO, to you need about three to five years experience at least, a clean record for up to three years. So what we found, Derek Chauvin had several cases and complaints of use of force during his nearly 20 year status as a police officer. But by those standards, they really only look at three to five years of your past history. So if you are not necessarily hiring trainers who have clean records.
What is something that police departments can do to try to reform the system?
Well, the first thing, if I had a magic wand, is to hire police trainers who have clean records. Also, have more incentives. Who wants to do it? What is that incentive? And based on my reporting, I found some of these macho cops who want to pass off the macho culture to the next generation. You're not getting necessarily those who want to teach and especially those who want to teach de-escalation,
Simone Weichselbaum of The Marshall Project. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks for having me.
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