How effective are police training reforms? "We're totally fooling ourselves," expert says

CBS News investigates policing in America
CBS News investigates policing in America 05:54

George Floyd's killing is the latest in a series of incidents highlighting tensions between the black community and police, another death in the trend of black men being more likely to die at the hands of police than their white counterparts. During a year-long investigation, CBS News reached out to over 150 police departments about what they're doing to combat the racial disparity — and more importantly, how well it is working. 

"These problems did not start in the 2000s. They have been around forever," Matthew Johnson, former president of the Los Angeles Police Commission told CBS News' Jeff Pegues. 

Though the issues began much earlier, George Floyd's recent death at the hands of a white Minneapolis officer sparked nationwide outrage and protests. In March, black EMT Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police inside her home during an alleged botched drug raid. In 2014, both Eric Garner in New York and Ferguson teen Michael Brown died after encounters with police. 

To Johnson, the problem goes further than the police.

"You saw it in the incident that happened in Central Park with Amy Cooper," he said, referring to a white woman in New York City calling 911 and falsely claiming she was being "threatened by a black man," when the man had asked her to leash her dog. 

Three-quarters of the departments surveyed said they had made changes to their training after controversial use-of-force incidents, but some question whether the training is enough given these incidents continue to happen.

"These are historical problems that go back to slavery," Johnson said. "If we think that we do… a week of de-escalation training or a week of anti-bias training and we're gonna solve all the problems… we're totally fooling ourselves." 

Some reforms around the country include virtual reality de-escalation training in Mesa, Arizona, firearms training in Ferguson, Missouri and implicit bias training in New York City, where officers are taught how to identify and minimize the impacts of negative stereotypes. 

At least 69% of survey responses said officers are given racial bias training, including in Minneapolis where Floyd was killed. 

"I don't know that it opened my eyes too much," said one Phoenix police officer who received racial bias training. 

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said the training would not change how he did his job.

"I don't think I was doing it incorrectly to begin with," he said. 

The officer believed racial bias training could actually do more harm than good, claiming it could lead to "officers second-guessing their actions" — the effects of which he said could be "deadly."

Gil Kerlikowske, who spent over 40 years in law enforcement before joining the Obama administration as Customs and Border Patrol commissioner, said he believes officers have a duty to intervene when they see bad behavior. 

"If your partner is using inappropriate force, inappropriate language, you've got a responsibility to take care of your partner and to stop him or her from doing that," he said. 

He said the "frustration" of many officers comes from being compared to examples like Derek Chauvin.

"And yet, the reality is they know that they all wear that blue uniform," he said.

Johnson added that any effective training needs to be backed by policies holding officers accountable, from hiring processes to rewards to promotions.

"Demographically, does your department reflect the demographics of the city?" he said. "Are they policing their neighbors, or do they live, you know, 50 miles outside of town?"

He said earning the trust of the community was vital.

"You have to actually show progress. It's not enough to just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk," Johnson explained. "And I think people are rightfully skeptical right now. They've heard the words before. But then we keep finding ourselves back in this situation."