When an officer lets their emotions get the best of them, they often show signs of it before any drastic actions occur. This is a crucial window where the officer’s partner can intervene before they lose control. If signs are ignored, it could progress and lead to excessive force or another violation of a person’s Constitutional rights.
Does your agency have policies in place for intervention? Are your officers prepared to intervene? If your answer to both of these questions is not a solid and immediate ‘yes,’ then it is time to consider solidifying intervention procedures. By emphasizing the importance of reporting misconduct and establishing a plan when witnessing it, you are protecting both your staff and the community.
VirTra has created V-VICTA® curriculum dedicated to informing agencies about officers’ duty to intervene as well as how to go about it. Simulated scenarios based off real-life events are paired with an easy-to-follow lesson plan and engaging training videos. Aptly titled “Duty to Intervene,” this course has gone through rigorous review to receive NCP certification from IADLEST.
While policies and the way agencies train vary by state, one thing certain is that every officer – regardless of rank or seniority – has the duty to intervene. It is vital to incorporate it into your training program in some way, and there have been creative methods used.
One such example is Utah Attorney General’s Office who hosts training courses dedicated entirely to the duty to intervene. Training Specialist Will Fowlke has blended VirTra into several training topics throughout the years. The latest addition is Duty to Intervene.
Utah Attorney General’s Office hosted a 2-hour training course addressing the duty to intervene and importance of reporting misconduct. The course uses excerpts from VirTra’s Duty to Intervene curriculum and utilizes scenarios on their V-300®.
“The scenarios we use include Crowd Control, Constitutionalist, Tire Tantrum, and VirTra’s new Duty to Intervene Vignettes Series that include five custom made vignettes designed to hone officers’ intervention skills” said Mr. Fowlke when discussing the utilization of scenarios during the course. “We selected these scenarios to address unconstitutional use of force, unconstitutional search and seizure, and biased police practices.” The course allows attending officers to review and analyze body cam footage. Analyzing known protest incidents helps officers learn the right and wrong ways to intervene.
Mr. Fowlke stated that he received positive feedback on the course. Participants noted that being able to review footage and participate in hands-on simulator training was helpful. In the past, Utah Attorney General’s Office has created training for Autism, Active Shooter, and other topics while utilizing VirTra’s scenarios.
If you would like to learn how you can incorporate simulated scenarios into your existing training regime, contact a specialist.
Courts have been hearing cases about failure to intervene for years – as far back as 1972. All courts have ruled that officers have a duty to intervene when there is a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. This includes during excessive or unnecessary application of force.
There are various reasons people may not intervene when a fellow officer is acting out of conduct. Maybe they don’t know they should, or they freeze up. Sometimes there is a negative culture in the agency that prevents them – consciously or unconsciously – from reporting an incident or stopping the offense.
The why, when, what, and how are all important to know when discussing an officer’s duty to intervene. When training, we look at past examples of what went wrong, then adjust accordingly in order to avoid making the same mistakes. Instructors must also show examples where proper intervention took place in order to see how these applications can work in the real world.
When you fail to intervene, it does not only affect the victim, it affects both legally and morally, plus the entire agency may be subject to distrust from the community. It goes against what is an officer’s code of conduct, as they joined the force to protect the community they serve.
As we have seen over the years with various failure to intervene cases, there is a national (and sometimes international) spotlight when things go wrong. These include notable incidents such as the Rodney King and George Floyd cases. In both, one or more officers allowed an instance of unnecessary or unreasonable amount of force to occur and continue.
The most important reasons why duty to intervene matters:
Despite rules being in place, issues can still happen and it is important to understand why. Your department should place value in those who come forward when something is wrong, but occasionally, there is a “code of silence” or people become worried of repercussions for reporting someone.
Nobody should have to fear retaliation for doing the right thing. Some agency cultures can make officers feel that they cannot report someone who is higher in seniority, or that they will be treated like a “snitch.” These are things that can be discussed with officers of all ranks, ensuring everyone knows that duty to intervene applies to everyone regardless of rank or status.
Lastly, leadership influences the success of policies. If it’s all lip service and things don’t actually change, nothing is accomplished. In fact, not sticking to the policies you create and discuss can lower officers’ trust in their leadership. Supervisors should enforce the policies and create a culture of feeling empowered to step up when seeing something wrong.
Officers should detect the need to intervene early in the event before trouble starts. Signs of anger and use of profanity could indicate that the officer is starting to let their emotions get the best of them. The EPIC model (ethical policing is courageous) suggests using a 10-code that can signal to the other officer that they need to calm down. “Sgt. Smith, 10-12!” or similar can get their attention without alerting others or causing embarrassment.
VirTra has given its law enforcement clients an opportunity to practice their understanding of when to intervene. Certified in early 2023, “Duty to Intervene: No Such Thing as a Professional Bystander” gives users an interactive and engaging way to learn. It combines training videos and multiple immersive scenarios to give officers the experience in a safe learning environment.
Professional intervention is important and is used in other fields besides policing, even in medical and aviation settings. It can save your job, your partner’s job, and the wellbeing of the community you serve. If you would like to get started with VirTra and begin training Duty to Intervene and other important topics, contact a specialist.
EPIC – Ethical Policing Is Courageous. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://epic.nola.gov
Galindez v. City of Hartford (U.S. Dist LEXIS 17592 2003).
There’s no such thing as a professional bystander. You can’t consider yourself a “professional” if you aren’t going to take action when you see something wrong being done by a co-worker. In law enforcement, your failure to intervene could result in discipline, losing your job, being sued civilly or even being charged criminally.
Not only can this affect the individual officer, but it also has a direct effect on the public perception of law enforcement as a whole. These types of incidents thrusts law enforcement into the national spotlight. A spotlight that has played a role in American’s confidence in law enforcement dropping to 48%.
What does it mean to fail to intervene? In a nutshell, it means that an officer who purposefully allows a fellow officer to violate a person’s Constitutional rights may be prosecuted for failure to intervene to stop the Constitutional violation. (Department of Justice, n.d.)
The next question you might have is, “Who does this apply to?” When it comes to an officer’s duty to intervene, courts have stated that it applies to EVERY officer of EVERY rank, including all levels of command staff. (Putman v. Gerloff, 1981). The duty to intervene even carries across situations that might involve officers from different agencies working together.
Courts recognize that not all situations can be stopped by an intervening officer. For example, an officer that runs up to a suspect and punches them before you even had time to realize what was happening. In cases like this, courts recognize that an officer does not always have an opportunity to stop the other person’s action. While you may not be able to stop the action when it occurs, you still must follow through with reporting the unconstitutional act in an appropriate and timely manner.
Failing to take action is only half of this discussion. The other half must deal with HOW you should take action. Many officers have never been exposed to this type of training, so they are unsure on what their options are, as well as what their obligations might be.
But don’t worry, VirTra has you covered!
In our upcoming V-VICTA® curriculum, “Duty to Intervene: No Such Thing as a Professional Bystander,” we will give your agency all the tools needed to work through or even avoid a circumstance where officers need to intervene.
You will learn how having the correct policies in place can help avoid these types of situations. It also discusses the types of training officers should stay up to date on, as well as best practices that have worked in other agencies.
Included with the curriculum is a set of custom-made videos for students and instructors to watch and discuss how they would handle what occurred in the videos. There will also be brand new scenarios that were designed around the duty to intervene training. The new scenarios include a vehicle contact, a suspicious person, and a large-scale protest. The entire course can be done within your VirTra simulator and can provide your officers with 2 hours of IADLEST certified training.
Stay Safe. Stay Dedicated.