Vargas: George Floyd killing undermines years of police efforts to build trust


The encounter is tough to watch.

For nearly eight minutes, a Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd as Floyd and onlookers begged the officers to stop.

Outraged protestors have burnt down a police precinct and damaged hundreds of businesses.  Across the country what began as peaceful demonstrations have escalated into violence, looting, arson, and shootings.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the social media age of policing, it’s that it only takes one incident to undermine years of hard work and effort at building community trust, especially in communities where there have been decades of mistrust of law enforcement.

Officer Derek Chauvin’s actions were not in keeping with law enforcement’s best practices or police training. He also seemed to be indifferent and lacking any sort of compassion, empathy or humanity. Prosecutors agreed, rightfully charging him today with third-degree murder. A jury will decide his fate.

I have watched the reaction on social media among current and former police professionals.

Nearly all agree Chauvin’s behavior and the behavior of the officers on scene do not represent the best values of the profession of policing.

At we have spent years reporting on law enforcement and in the process have met some of the finest, most caring and selfless human beings you could ever know. We have made an intentional effort to focus on the positive changes that have occurred. The introduction of body cameras, procedural justice, diversity in hiring, de-escalation, serving the homeless and vulnerable, and bias training are just some of the topics we have reported on.

Despite the positive steps taken by police departments across California and the nation, the actions of a few can undermine decades of progress in a matter of moments.  

Regrettably, the profession has been tainted again. These officers represent the exception, not the rule. The majority of police officers do their jobs with honor, integrity and respect for everyone, including suspects.  

In the meantime, police departments across the country will do their best to police an understandably angry, frustrated citizenry as they continue to protest, hopefully peacefully. They will also be called upon to maintain public order, protect businesses and prevent lawlessness. In doing so they will be criticized by all sides. I pray for the safety of all demonstrators and police alike.  

My hope is that for the hundreds of thousands of officers in the country there is a clear understanding that trust is valuable and can be lost in an instant.

Reestablishing trust will take time, effort and intentionality. It will take continued training, better community relations and, most of all, removing bad officers.

It will take a while but the first steps toward reconciliation and healing have begun with the filing of charges. I can’t imagine what Mr. Floyd’s family is going through right now. They have my sympathy and prayers.

We will all get through this and come out the other side better.