The Minneapolis Police Department has revamped its system for choosing and overseeing field training officers, the program that allowed Derek Chauvin to remain a mentor for rookie cops despite a history of citizen complaints.
Now, veteran officers who step out of line on the job can be removed from supervisory positions while a complaint is investigated by the department's Internal Affairs — a safeguard meant to prevent rookies from adopting rogue behavior in the field.
"These are our role models, so it's important for us to be able to ensure that our field training officers are in a place in their career where they are capable of modeling that professional, ethical policing," interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman said in a recent interview.
The changes come in response to a city audit in June 2021, which determined that the Police Department's decentralized field training officer system lacked accountability and, sometimes, allowed trainers to operate with little scrutiny.
The lack of oversight has been linked to a culture of aggressive policing that stretches back decades. Those concerns surfaced in 2021 during the trial of Chauvin, who was allowed to continue training younger officers even as he racked up at least 17 civilian complaints.
Chauvin was sentenced to 22½ years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, whose death in 2020 on a south Minneapolis street corner sparked international protests and demands for police reform. Chauvin also pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges that could result in another 25 years in prison, which would be served concurrently with his state sentence.
At the City Council audit committee meeting Monday, police Lt. Molly Fischer outlined changes to the department's field training program, including a more demanding application process — requiring two letters of recommendation from current supervisors, a panel interview, thorough vetting of their personnel file and approval by the precinct inspector — quarterly professional development classes and new software to better evaluate progress of instructors and their trainees.
While the department has long tracked new recruits via body camera footage and daily operation reports, no formal process existed to monitor the performance of their instructors. Modernized computer software helps flag bad behavior in real time.
"We're not finding out things days later; we're finding out pretty much immediately so we can address them quickly," said Fischer, who oversees the department's field training officer program.
Any complaint referred to Internal Affairs is now cross-checked with the training officer distribution list to see if they serve as a full- or part-time instructor, or substitute. Field training officers who are credibly accused of misconduct that rises above an "A-level," such as uniform infractions or other isolated incidents, in the department's updated discipline matrix can be placed on "pause,' or temporarily stripped of supervisory duties, while the case is investigated.
Troy Schoenberger, who serves as deputy chief of professional standards, ultimately makes that call.
Police Department officials say that has occurred "numerous times" over the past year, but they did not cite which policy violations triggered the status change.
Like many departments, Minneapolis modeled its program after San Jose, Calif., which started the nation's first field training officer program in 1971.
After graduating from the police academy, new hires in Minneapolis spend about six months shadowing more-experienced officers to supplement what they learned in the classroom about proper use of force and other aspects of police work.
In practice, rookie cops were often being placed with jaded veterans who could quickly undo months of academy learning, according to some former officers and department critics.
After Monday's presentation, the audit committee chairwoman, Council Member Linea Palmisano, applauded what she deemed "a complete overhaul" of the training program, which was aided by substantial upgrades to data tracking and records management.
Several committee members asked how staffing shortages are affecting the program and whether there's elevated concern about burnout, since the same officers are often tapped to serve as instructors each recruitment cycle.
"I would be lying if I said that's not a concern that I have," said Fischer, who noted that the department has about 65 field training officers but would prefer an increase to at least 150.
In the past two years, the department has lost many trainers who are no longer willing to shoulder the burden of mentoring the next generation, as well as responding to back-to-back 911 calls, she said.
Top brass have tried to recruit new training officers by appealing to their sense of duty.
"If you believe you're a good officer, and you believe you have a lot to give — and you think things could be better, then you need to do the work that stands behind it," Fischer said. "We all had somebody who taught us and gave us time and energy... so [new officers] deserve somebody who sends them down the right path."
As an incentive, instructors in good standing will now receive $2,500 a year, paid out quarterly.
The Minneapolis police union contract, which was renegotiated this spring, says that the administration should try to staff its field training officer program with volunteers. But the pact gives the department the authority to "reject a volunteer who it determines is not appropriate to serve" and to assign officers to fill any vacancies.