The videotapes of the murder of George Floyd has changed the world. It was diabolic, the deliberate way with which Derek Chauvin knelt on George’s throat, and kept it there, ignoring the suggestion from one, and maybe both of the rookies that he should turn George on his side. Just saying that took a lot of guts, but neither officer Lane nor Officer Kuenig went all the way and pulled Chauvin off Floyd. They must have been scared to death; rookies with only four days on the force going up against a Force Training Officer with almost twenty years of experience. Instead they both helped hold Floyd down. No wonder he died, with three people on. top of him. The training officer seemed to be saying, “This is how you do this. This is how you subdue this guy, If you do it right, he’ll never bother us again”
He was acting as their Force Training Officer. (FTO). An observer seeing all four police officers grouped by the side of the road might have concluded that he was seeing some kind of classroom exercise. If the cameras hadn’t been there and rolling, this would have been just another teaching moment for these new officers. This is how you do it here in this Minneapolis neighborhood.
Both Minneapolis and Northampton have FTEP programs modelled on methods pioneered by the San Jose CA police department in the early seventies. Experienced patrol officers mentor rookies. The program’s impetus in San Jose came from a tragedy: a fatal crash of one of their cruisers. The officer was speeding to a non-emergency call, ran a red light, and his cruiser collided with another car, killing a civilian passenger. The officer involved had been hired and cleared for duty despite some worrisome remarks in his record. The program became the standard for almost all of our police departments in the 1970s.
Perhaps it is time to reexamine this program. What was a progressive program in the seventies might have become a potent factor in passing on the values and prejudices of the old order. The teaching takes place out of the public eye, in squad cars, coffee shops and on the street.
A rookie comes out of the Academy, where they usually enforce military discipline. Both of the rookies had to call Chauvin “Sir” Then the new officer is assigned to a patrol role and they get a FTO (field training officer) to work with. He’s usually a experienced patrolman. There is usually an elaborate system of evaluating how you perform. If you don’t pass you are gone. Your FTO probably will tell you to forget all that horseshit they taught you in the academy. Out here, he might say, this is the real world, and we can’t do things by the book. The bad guys have guns and they are waiting for you to make the wrong move. If you talk back to your training officer you might find yourself in the same situation as “Serpico”, calling for backup and no one showing up to help you.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some really fine Northampton police officers, guys that knew how to listen to people and keep things cool. A couple of them were part of the first generation of police to come on board after the great meltdown in 1977, when two officers, Donald Roy and Luke (The Spook) Scanlon, were convicted of responding to late night break-ins by locking the doors behind them and stuffing their squad cars with stolen goods. In the wake of that scandal, a new mayor appointed five new patrolmen to the force. When they arrived, no one in the department would talk to them.
“We were just handed our badges and our guns and told to go out and patrol,” said one of them to me. “No training. The old timers felt that at least one of us was working undercover.” In those days Northampton was a different place, a town full of working people and the new police were. also working people and could afford to live here.
In going over the current list of Northampton’s training officers, I saw someone who has been a good deal of trouble to the department over the years. He had his guns taken away from him in 2016 after violating a restraining order, and in 2010 he was the policeman who initiated the arrest of retired Judge W. Michael Ryan in the parking lot in back of the old Registry of Deeds in the winter of 2010. He was on bike patrol, and he comes across Ryan and the woman who was his law partner. I think they were trying to change the tire on her car. They had been drinking at the Tunnel Bar. He calls for backup, three other patrolmen show up. You can see the action on this video. In his complaint the patrolman said that both of them had been drinking and the Judge was loud and abusive. Three other policemen arrive. They are all big guys and Judge Ryan is no match for them. He is in handcuffs and off to jail. Ryan said that if it hadn’t been for the video, he would have gone to jail. Maybe. I’ve spent a long time looking at the video, and I don’t see the Judge committing assault and battery on Officer Kohl. I see an old guy trying to grab his wallet back from the policeman, who looks and acts like a guy with a temper. He must have known who Ryan was. Was there a need to pull his wallet? There’s all these big muscular police, and a 64 year old Judge who was, I believe, not a beloved figure among Northampton police, who were often given tongue-lashings by the judge over the years. So I suspect some “get-back” motive is afoot.
The fog that the department generates about the FTEP program says that our officers chosen as Field Training Officers are “specially selected and trained” Maybe they are, but when the department is running a fever and losing personnel, a program like this will tend to exacerbate long standing problems and pass on the virus from the old timers to the new people. Fear and the police culture are the killer factors in making police reform very difficult.