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Police Officers Monitored Derek Chauvin's Trial Very Closely


Police officers were watching the verdict in Derek Chauvin's murder trial very closely.

NPR law enforcement correspondent Martin Kaste has been talking to some of them. Good morning, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. So the verdict comes down - guilty on three counts. And what did police officers tell you?

KASTE: Well, the cops that I've been talking to say they're relieved. You know, the ones I've talked to, at least, say they did not like Chauvin and they did not like the damage that he had done to their profession.

Leon Taylor is a former Baltimore cop, also an African American. And he told me that the reaction among his friends and colleagues has been positive, in part because cops are uncomfortable with this image of arrogance that Chauvin has come to project on their profession.

LEON TAYLOR: The general consensus has been that we are relieved because, you know, for every cop that's done it the right way, you have this, you know, tainting everything that you've done. You have people looking at you, you know, with suspicion.

KING: How universal do you think that sentiment is among police?

KASTE: Well, they're not, you know, all of one mind. I have yet to talk to a single police officer who's told me that he thinks Chauvin was not guilty. I mean, I think there's pretty uniform thought about that. But you're right that there are some cops right now who've gone quiet. You know, as Taylor puts it, as others are celebrating, some are quiet. And they're worried about the atmosphere that surrounded this trial.

I mean, the big national union in this country, the Fraternal Order of Police, did call this trial fair yesterday in a statement. But some officers still are kind of uneasy about the - this - how sort of the specter of potential unrest or even violence kind of hung over the whole thing and that Minneapolis might burn again if there wasn't the right verdict, so to speak. They think that Chauvin was guilty, but they wonder, you know, whether this fear of unrest may be sort of a bad omen for future incidents where police officers are facing some kind of scrutiny or are accused of misconduct, that somehow in the future, the size of the potential crowd outside the police department may be what determines whether or not you get fired or disciplined or even prosecuted.

KING: Oh, that is interesting. OK. So they are looking, as you would imagine, at knock-on effects. Are you hearing - regarding knock-on effects, are you hearing from police officers who hope that this verdict will lead to some kind of larger structural change in what they do?

KASTE: I mean, a lot of the reform-minded people in policing say that's already kind of happening. They say the protests last summer after Floyd's murder definitely pushed things along, especially in the states, in state capitols. We've seen in a number of states, things like new bans on chokeholds or new rules requiring independent policing agencies to investigate police shootings.

Sue Rahr is the former head of the police academy here in Washington state. She was also on President Obama's police reforms task force. And she pointed to legislation in Washington requiring police officers to intercede when one of their colleagues is using excessive force. And she says that wouldn't have happened without Floyd's death calling attention to the whole situation, making legislation possible.

SUE RAHR: The power of this case is that it caused nearly universal outrage. And it mobilized the country the same way the news reporting from Selma got people's attention in the early '60s. So in that way, I think the power of the case is less about the particulars of the incident, but the momentum that it created.

KING: Let me ask you about the momentum and about the big picture here. President Biden last night again asked the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Would that federal bill mean anything for police practices given that they work on a state and local level?

KASTE: Well, the - you know, policing is local in this country. And the federal government can certainly do a lot of things like provide incentives, grants, collect better data nationally. But ultimately, if you want to require police departments do something differently, you have to go to the state level. And that's what we're seeing, I think, on a more effective basis than anything we might see on the federal level.

KING: OK, NPR's Martin Kaste.

Thank you, Martin.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.