June 9, 2020


Why Did Minneapolis Officers Not Adhere to the City’s  “Duty to Intervene” Policy?

In today’s Critical Issues Report, we’ll focus on Principle #6 in PERF’s 2016 report, Guiding Principles on Use of Force, which states the following:

Duty to intervene: Officers need to prevent other officers from using excessive force.

Officers should be obligated to intervene when they believe another officer is about to use excessive or unnecessary force, or when they witness colleagues using excessive or unnecessary force, or engaging in other misconduct.

Agencies should also train officers to detect warning signs that another officer might be moving toward excessive or unnecessary force and to intervene before the situation escalates.

Usually, it is impossible to know whether a different course of action would have altered the course of history.  But in this case, the conclusion seems inescapable that if the Minneapolis police officers at the scene had complied with their department’s duty-to-intervene policy, George Floyd would not have died on May 25, and the United States would have been spared the upheaval that has been occurring since then.   

Consider the following:

-- Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

-- According to the criminal complaint against Chauvin, during those 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Mr. Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe. 

-- Officer Thomas Lane was concerned enough to say, “Should we roll him on his side?” and “I am worried about excited delirium or whatever” and “I want to roll him on his side.”

-- But Chauvin said, “No, staying put where we got him.”

-- Chauvin was an 18-year veteran of the department, while two of the other officers, including Officer Lane, had joined the department as cadets in 2019. 

-- In a court hearing, Officer Lane’s attorney reportedly said it was his client’s fourth shift and Officer J. Alexander Kueng’s third as officers in the field when George Floyd was killed. Gray also said that the two officers’ training officer was Derek Chauvin.

-- The Minneapolis Police Department has had the following duty-to-intervene policy in effect since 2016:

5-303.01     DUTY TO INTERVENE

A.    Sworn employees have an obligation to protect the public and other employees.

B.     It shall be the duty of every sworn employee present at any scene where physical force is being applied to either stop or attempt to stop another sworn employee when force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required.

-- Unfortunately, the three other officers at the scene did not stop Chauvin’s use of force.


Issues of Police Culture Must Be Recognized

An important part of a duty-to-intervene policy is teaching officers that intervening not only can prevent unnecessary uses of force, it can protect officers’ careers.

It can be difficult for one police officer to challenge another officer, especially if the officer who is using excessive force has a higher rank or longer tenure than other officers at the scene.

The reluctance to challenge another officer is even greater when a new recruit must challenge his or her training officer.

It is also important that a policy be clear that an intervention must go beyond a verbal comment if the officer using force ignores the attempted intervention.

Officers must understand that they are required to accept, without question, the intercession of another officer. Officers should be trained to understand that it is in their own interest to step back if another officer believes they are crossing a line. 

The Minneapolis City Council recognized these issues of police culture on June 5, when it approved a series of reforms that include a stronger duty-to-intervene policy.

Under the new policy, any officer, “regardless of tenure or rank,” who sees another Minneapolis officer use unauthorized force “must attempt to safely intervene by verbal and physical means.”

The order also includes a penalty for failing to intervene, stating that an officer who fails to intervene “shall be subject to discipline to the same severity as if they themselves engaged in the prohibited use of force.”

One of the challenges for police departments is to teach young officers, fresh from the academy, to speak up against senior officers when they see wrongdoing, because veteran officers are expected to know more.  This is at the heart of the George Floyd case. 


New Orleans’ EPIC Program:  “Ethical Policing Is Courageous”

The New Orleans Police Department has implemented a duty-to-intervene program called Ethical Policing Is Courageous, in which officers are trained on five goals:

1. Help officers understand the career-saving benefits of intervention;

2. Help officers identify the signs that an intervention is necessary;

3. Teach officers how to intervene effectively and safely;

4. Teach officers how and why to accept intervention respectfully;

5. Protect officers who intervene and those who accept intervention.

The NOPD pursues these goals through recruit training, in-service training, and roll calls. This includes scenario-based training.

A key concept in EPIC is  “active bystandership.” An active bystander intervenes when he or she sees something happening or about to happen that is wrong. Passive bystanders fail to intervene because they’re afraid they are interpreting the situation incorrectly, or they think it’s not their job to intervene, or they have a misplaced sense of loyalty to a colleague. The EPIC training is designed to attack these “inhibitors” to intervention head-on.

Further information about EPIC can be found in a 2016 issue of PERF’s Subject to Debate newsletter. 

The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.

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