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Guilty verdict in Chauvin trial sparks new hope for change in policing

George Floyd Officer Trial
Posted at 1:30 PM, Apr 23, 2021

The guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin is sparking new hope for improvements in how police departments operate across the country.

New polling conducted within hours of Tuesday’s verdict shows 71% of people agreed with the jury's decisions. And while 62% of people in that same poll said they planned to accept the verdicts and not protest, there's still a nationwide push to modernize policing.

But could this case help kick start that modernization? We spoke to Kirk Burkhalter, a 20-year New York Police Department veteran who is now a law professor. He said while this case could be a turning point for policing in our country, there's still work to be done.

“You have a large segment of the community that just don't necessarily trust the police. They don't give the police the benefit of the doubt, and that needs to be restored if we are going to move forward,” said Burkhalter.

Burkhalter says the troubles with policing are multi-dimensional. He believes a major component of any change has to be updating police culture and reassessing the types of calls to which officers are dispatched.

“The country has moved forward into the 21st century and where the police departments are kind of stuck back in the 80s and 90s. And we have to move away from this occupying force mode into more of a public service mode,” said Burkhalter.

Burkhalter is the Director of the New York Law School's 21stCentury Policing Project. He says revamping training is key to enacting constructive change, from a switch to undergraduate-style education programs for officers, to requiring more "in the field" training.

And while kickstarting the change could be challenging, Burkhalter believes small steps will make the transition easier.

“The largest hinderance is holding on to outmoded ideas. We all get very comfortable. It's like an old shoe or an old shirt, right? You don't want to get rid of it because it's been so comfortable. But once you put on that new shirt, those new shoes, it's like, oh, my goodness, what have I been wearing these last 10 or 20 years?”

Burkhalter says any systemic change would likely start with smaller departments and gradually expand to bigger cities. But he says the change can't stop with police and that he's hopeful everyone will do their part by thinking about how we treat others, by listening, and by speaking up when we see something that doesn't seem right.