What ‘duty to intervene’ means in policing

Minneapolis police officer's patch is shown on a uniform.
A Minneapolis police officer's patch is shown on a uniform as about 50 cadets in the Minneapolis Police Department's academy participated in an outdoor workout in Minneapolis.
Brandt Williams | MPR News 2015

Friday, ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is set to be sentenced for the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Bystander video captured Chauvin with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes as the man lay pinned to the street, handcuffed and face down, pleading that he couldn’t breathe while people shouted from the curb that Floyd was dying. 

The three other former officers involved — J. Alexander Keung, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — are also facing charges and are set to stand trial in March 2022. At least one of those officers attempted to intervene. “A couple of times, Thomas Lane, a rookie, suggested the officers should roll Floyd on his side to let him breathe,” according to MPR News reporter Jon Collins. “Chauvin brushed off Lane’s suggestion, and the other officers at the scene stayed silent.”

What responsibility do officers have to intervene in the behavior of another officer? Minneapolis established a “duty to intervene” policy in 2016, setting a rule that officers must “either stop or attempt to stop another sworn employee when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.” 

How is that rule applied in practice? Should officers be required to report any wrongdoing by another officer? 

Friday, two policing experts joined host Kerri Miller to examine policies requiring officers to intervene when witnessing misconduct or excessive force by another officer and whether those policies are effective.

Guests: 

  • Christy E. Lopez is a professor from Practice and co-director of Innovative Policing Program at Georgetown Law. 

  • Bill Finney is a former St. Paul police chief and current undersheriff for Ramsey County.

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