MSU grads prepare for harsh realities

Classes of law enforcement students were unanimous in their belief that the use of force by Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin on George Floyd was unjustifiable. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it speaks to the small movement, perhaps, in attitudes about use of force, police and race among young people seeking careers in law enforcement.

An in-depth report by The Free Press in Sunday’s edition showed MSU professors were bringing their students the reality of the high-pressure career they are seeking. Professors put regular curriculum aside to discuss the George Floyd, Daunte Wright and seemingly endless list of other cases of deadly force against people of color.

The students also were discussing new ethical duties they face in turning in their fellow officers for excessive use of force, a new requirement in state law passed last year. They were discussing protests and public perception of law enforcement.

On the bright side, many students, according to their professors, seem undaunted by recent events in their willingness to serve, and as MSU professor Carl Lafata said, have a conviction to “be the change they want to see.” That’s good news.

They will face a different world of policing. Not only has public perception changed dramatically, but the public activism through protest and other forums comes down squarely on the entire profession, fairly or not.

The use of force laws changed in Minnesota last year after the Floyd murder. Various tactics have been outlawed, including chokeholds and neck restraints. Officers are required to report other officers who use excessive force, and standards for officer disciplinary actions were toughened.

Deadly force standards also now carry requirements for preserving the “sanctity of every human life.” Standards for when deadly force is allowed also call for stricter ways to measure an officer’s “reasonable” behavior.

So yes, graduates face a rapidly changing law enforcement world. And the Minnesota State system, which graduates about 80 percent of Minnesota officers, also implemented new teaching standards that call for stress and psychological training as well as cultural competency education and practicum-like experiences where graduating officers spend time in communities of color.

Lafata alluded to the long culture of the blue wall of silence in his advice to students when they may come up against a police administration that frowns on reporting other officers for misconduct.

“Change won’t happen unless officers are willing to do the right thing regardless of personal or professional cost,” he told The Free Press. “That is a significant thing to ask of officers, but it should be a sacrifice they are prepared and willing to make in order to preserve the public’s trust and faith in law enforcement.”

Indeed, for graduates of the MSU program, the most difficult part of being a peace officer may have nothing to do with book learning. It will be the ethical and moral role officers will play in a physically and psychologically-charged environment where their goal will not be so much law and order but peace and understanding.

— Mankato Free Press


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