Minnesota’s system of public universities and community colleges will conduct a “critical examination” of its law enforcement training programs after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd during an arrest.
Ex-officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, attended a Minnesota State community college, as did the three other officers charged in Floyd’s death. The state college system educates approximately 80% of Minnesota police officers through its 22 professional peace officer education programs.
Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra told the Star Tribune this week that system leaders believe law enforcement needs to be “transformed” after the “senseless and tragic death” of Floyd. A systemwide working group will soon begin meeting to review and re-envision Minnesota State’s law enforcement curricula and teaching methods using an “anti-racism and equity-focused lens,” he added.
“Our colleges and universities certainly have a part and a role to play,” Malhotra said. “At Minnesota State, we are fully committed to ending discrimination and racism in all its forms.”
The Minnesota State system joins a growing list of higher education institutions that are acting in response to Floyd’s death. This week, the University of Minnesota and Hamline University announced scholarships in honor of Floyd. The University of St. Thomas announced Wednesday the formation of a new “Racial Justice Initiative,” which will facilitate research, conduct community engagement and sponsor conversations on history, race and obstacles to progress.
Minnesota State’s police officer programs are certified by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). System law enforcement programs include training on skills such as firearm safety, SWAT, interrogation, crime scene investigation and threat assessment.
Minnesota State can do more than just meet the POST Board’s requirements for certification, Malhotra said. It can better educate aspiring officers on cultural competence, systemic racism and social justice issues.
Details are still being hashed out, but the group will begin its work soon “given the sense of immediacy and urgency,” Malhotra said. System officials will work with campus administrators, faculty and students to review programs and curricula.
The college student association LeadMN, which represents 165,000 community and technical college students across Minnesota, called on Malhotra to establish this working group in a resolution on June 6.
“What we’ve seen repeatedly is when students put pressure on those decisionmakers … it can drive reform, it can drive change,” said Michael Dean, executive director of LeadMN.
Students were surprised to learn the four officers charged in Floyd’s death attended a Minnesota State college; three of the officers attended a Minnesota State law enforcement program.
“This has become a wake-up call that we are contributing to this unhealthy culture of racial bias and excessive force in policing,” said Oballa Oballa, president of LeadMN and a student at Riverland Community College in Austin, Minn.
Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said the working group is a logical step forward in light of recent events. It could also lead to more consistency in law enforcement training.
The POST Board puts out numerous learning objectives for police officer programs, leaving colleges and universities with “a great deal of leeway” in determining what’s in their curricula, Skoogman said.
“The first courses will help shape our future police officers, so I think it’s critical that they are taught some of the key principles of law enforcement and then they’re taught in a very consistent manner,” he said.
Mylan Masson, a longtime Minneapolis police officer and former director of Hennepin Technical College’s law enforcement and criminal justice education center, is doubtful that curriculum changes can make a difference without police department reforms.
New officers are “taught differently on the streets,” she said, and those who don’t do what they’re told may be ostracized quickly.
“Our students were told many times, ‘Forget what you were taught in skills, forget what you were taught in school. We’re going to teach you the right way on the street,’ ” Masson said.
“That never sat well with me at all.”