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Police Training Becomes Focal Point in Chauvin Trial

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Much of Tuesday’s testimony has highlighted the training that the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin received. But one longtime issue in policing in Minneapolis and elsewhere is the difference between what officers learn in the academy and what they learn on the streets.

Law enforcement officials and criminal justice experts have said that while officers may learn things like de-escalation and community engagement in training, they can be highly influenced by whoever trains them on the job.

And sometimes those field-training officers may be from an earlier generation that employed a more aggressive approach. That divide has been a concern of Minneapolis police and city officials as they try to change the way their officers operate after the death of George Floyd.

Mr. Chauvin, who is facing murder charges after kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was a field-training officer. He had supervised two of the rookie officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s arrest.

“Every police agency has a mission statement, but the culture is what is accepted by leadership on a day-to-day basis,” Sean Hendrickson, an instructor at Washington State’s police academy, told The New York Times in an article last year. “That gets backed up by other officers and is extremely deep and very difficult to change.”

Some activists have argued that the Minneapolis police — and other police agencies — were so irreparably broken that no amount of new training can reform them. Others have expressed concern that officers do not receive proper or enough training.

Most states require fewer minimum training hours to become licensed as a police officer than they do for barbers or cosmetologists. As of last year, for example, New York State law mandates 1,000 hours of training for massage therapists, compared with around 700 hours for officers. Hawaii has no minimum requirements for police officers, but manicurists must train for 300 hours.

Becoming a police officer in Minneapolis requires first getting a peace officer license from the state, which entails as many as 1,050 hours of training. Once recruits obtain their licenses, they have to go through additional training run by the Minneapolis Police Department that includes 19 weeks in the academy.

After completing the academy, new officers spend five months on the streets with a field training officer, who is supposed to teach recruits how to translate what they learned in the academy to real-life situations. But current and former officers pointed to one of the first things that field training officers often say to new recruits: “Forget everything you learned in the academy.”

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