By Terry Baxter, Law Enforcement and Safety Specialist
Law enforcement agencies are reviewing and making changes to their use of force policies in light of the recent events involving excessive force and the aftermath that followed the death of George Floyd.
One component being added into use of force policies is a procedure addressing a Duty to Intervene. The purpose of this procedure is to outline and explain the legal and moral obligation a member of your organization has when it is determined the conduct of another law enforcement officer is observed or heard by your deputy that is considered unethical, clearly violates the law or violates agency policy.
The policy is designed to protect deputies who act within their duty to intervene to prevent or minimize what they may observe or hear as a misconduct. The duty to intervene isn’t all about force, but should also address issues such as theft, fraud, inappropriate language, sexual misconduct, harassment, falsifying documents or something determined to be inappropriate behavior.
Deputies have an affirmative duty to intervene, when they witness something that is clearly unreasonable. During times when law enforcement is faced with a tense, fast-moving situation that evolves requiring the use of force, the officer engaged in the force can easily get distracted, get tunnel vision and may not realize the force being applied is above what is authorized, so when a secondary officer arrives on scene hopefully they have a clear understanding and vision to conclude the actions of the law enforcement being observed is simply not right.
I realize a new deputy to the organization may be somewhat hesitant to intervene with a senior officer or their own field training officer. Remember this played a factor in the George Floyd event, Officer Chavin was a 19-year law enforcement veteran and Officer Lane was a rookie and on his fourth day of patrol. How about a seasoned officer who doesn’t want to step on another officer toes or get the officer in trouble, this is known as the blue wall of silence, blue curtain or the code. And what happens, if a seasoned officer or field training officer orders the young/new deputy to participate in unethical behavior?
It is imperative, especially in todays’ society, that law enforcement officers understand if they recognize excessive force, unethical or immoral behaviors, they intervene either through verbal or if necessary physical means.
Policies are written, but the most important component to a written policy is policy training. You can never predict what your day will bring and no matter what law enforcement agency you work, for the basic concept of the job is to “serve and protect”, that means everybody.
From the outside looking in, who knows, had the Minneapolis Officers on scene during George Floyd event intervened, the outcome may have been different, but one thing for certain you wouldn’t want that event happening in your community or in fact hopefully ever happening again.
The sad part of this event, in 2016 Minneapolis Police Department had implemented an intervention rule urging its officers to stop or attempt to stop the unnecessary violence of their colleagues. So how important is policy training now?
Look, we all get carried away sometimes and caught up in the moment, but it should be encouraged through policy and training that every officer that encounters a unethical, immoral or illegal action involving another officer has as duty to intervene and basically right a wrong. The duty to intervene is not about being “a squealer”, “a narc”, “a rat”, or “a saint”, it’s about doing the right thing and ensuring everyone is protected, including the agency they work for.
For questions or training on this topic please contact Terry at firstname.lastname@example.org or (402) 686-9332 or 1.800.642.6671.