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The correctional officer’s duty to intervene

The duty to intervene in an excessive force situation is your legal and moral responsibility

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Use of force, when reasonably necessary, is a tool to help us maintain control over inmates. The duty to intervene arises when inappropriate or excessive force is occurring or is about to occur. This can be force that violates your policy or the law.

The duty to intervene came into the national spotlight many years ago during the Rodney King incident in Los Angeles. Since then, law, policy, and procedure have all evolved to support intervention.

Today, we know that the duty to intervene does not only come up when another officer is acting maliciously. You may have to intervene when a situation has spiraled out of control. In most use of force situations, the officers present often only have split seconds to think. And let’s not forget that during a potentially violent situation, we become flooded with adrenalin. We may experience tunnel vision or other altered perspective. We may even lose self-control.

There are many reasons, my friends, why inappropriate or excessive use of force can occur. This is where intervening is essential to prevent harm to an inmate. And guess what? By intervening, you’re also helping your fellow officer. You’re preventing what could be a career-ending incident.

The duty to intervene in an excessive force situation is your legal and moral responsibility. So here are three important things to remember.

First, the force doesn’t have to be deadly, it just has to be excessive. Even a slap or kick deserves intervention if it’s unreasonable for the circumstance.

Second, there must be an opportunity to intervene. Sometimes, everything will be over before you can react. Your duty to intervene arises when it is reasonable and safe to do so.

And third, the duty applies to you, regardless of your experience. A rookie officer on their first day in the jail and a seasoned veteran with 20 years on – both are equally held to this standard.

Remember these three elements of the duty to intervene. And commit today to prevent any excessive force to the inmates in your care.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.

For more tips from Gordon, click here.

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Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.