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Northern Michigan Law Enforcement Officers Discuss Chauvin Trial, Police Training

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The Derek Chauvin trial put the actions of the former officer under a microscope – and in turn, the actions of officers all over the country.  Police agencies here in northern Michigan say it has also put attention and a renewed focus on training.

Traverse City Police Chief Jeff O’Brien says, “That’s where training is very important. Ethics. Implicit bias. De-escalation has been around forever.”

Northern Michigan law enforcement officers like the Traverse City Police Chief and the Leelanau County Sheriff, have been keeping an eye on the Derek Chauvin trial. Sheriff Mike Borkovich says, “It’s always easy to slip down the slope of ‘something happened in some other state or some other area’. And sort of blame that or place that into the roles we’re doing here.”

Chief Jeff O’Brien says this was one of two examples in his career that come to mind immediately, where there was clearly an excessive use of force. The first was . And, this case: “Derek Chauvin: clear, classic excessive force. Had no reason to extend that force to the level he extended it. We all know that, police officers know that.”

Chief O’Brien says other officers should have stepped in. “When you see something such as what Derek Chauvin did, there has to be intervention other police officers. The other police officers have to get involved, and say, this is not right. This is excessive force.” And he adds, “We’re all human beings. We get emotional. When we apply too much force, other officers have to step in and say don’t do that, that’s wrong. Step back, let me handle this.”

The 9 minutes of Derek Chauvin’s actions – holding his knee on George Floyd’s neck – became a focal point of the trial. The Chief says, “That vascular neck restraint is no longer taught. I was taught that vascular neck restraint. The carotid artery. (It’s) a very serious restraint. It was only utilized in certain circumstances where you’re almost getting to a deadly force level.”

The Chief says law enforcement newsletters and trade magazines are full of topics like immunity for police officers, defunding the police, and citizen oversight committees. And there’s a renewed focus on use of force, de-escalation techniques and officer training.  “It has to happen internally. It’s an internal change for law enforcement. The external forces aren’t going to change it. They’re going to modify it. But they’re not going to change it.”

But it’s training many already do – and have been doing –for years. Sheriff Borkovich ays, “We give all kinds of anti-bias training. We get explicit bias training. Implicit bias training. Cultural diversity classes.” He adds that in Leelanau County, “We have never seen incidents of prejudice or bias or anything like that. So I’m proud to say they’re doing their job well. They treat people fairly and equally. But I know nationwide it’s a concern.”

“It’s frustrating that people question what we’re doing sometimes and how we’re doing it. When they’re totally unaware of the type of training we do and the extent of training we do,” Borkovich says.

Chief O’Brien says, “We saw an outcry all across the United States condemning what Derek Chauvin did.  I hope that citizens understand that, that 99.9% of police officers really do a good job. Really want to do a good job. They use force when they have to but they de-escalate right away.”

Sheriff Borkovich agrees. “There’s a lot of negative thoughts. As a people I guess we tend to focus on negative and not so much on positive. For each bad thing that happens, for each aberration of normal operations, they’re normally contacting hundreds or thousands of people in between.”

Local Police agencies are working together to discuss continued training for the next generation of officers. They’re meeting with the Police Academy run by Northwestern Michigan College to talk about the recruiting and training concerns. Benzie County Sheriff Kyle Rosa says, “It’s very important for us to have a hand in, and a knowledge of what’s going on in the academy.”

“Because of the events that are happening and the light that’s being shed on police officers throughout the country in the last several years, has made it a less desirable field to go into,” Sheriff Rosa says.

These leaders agree that many departments often have difficulty getting qualified recruits. Sheriff Rosa says, “You’re looking for recruits or people that would step up and take the role on just because it’s the right thing to do.” He adds, “The world we live in is changing, so… (it’s important) to stay with current events and to progress in a way that officers have the training and the ability to be trained. And to move forward and do a good job for the people they serve.”

For Sheriff Borkovich, recruiting is about more than just posting an open position. “We’re looking for good people, with good morals, good ethics. Who are kind. And who want to do a public service type job.”

Chief O’Brien says, “I’m hoping that through training and through NMC… that we have a quality, a better quality of police officer. That’s the legacy, that’s the goal I want to establish within Traverse City.

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