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Police Complaints Board Releases Report on D.C. Police Officers’ Duty to Intervene

Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Report identifies areas for improvement in the duty to intervene policy

WASHINGTON, DC – The District of Columbia Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today released a report to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council of the District of Columbia, and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham addressing concerns regarding the Department’s duty to intervene policy.

MPD’s current policy requires officers to “intervene in and subsequently report on any use of force incident in which they observe another member utilizing excessive force or engaging in any type of misconduct.”  This requirement is outlined in the Department’s most recent version of the Use of Force General Order, dated November 3, 2017.

OPC has investigated several incidents of alleged police misconduct in which community members will identify the MPD officers who they have a complaint against and note there were other officers present who witnessed the misconduct taking place.  Through body-worn camera footage, OPC investigators also observed additional officers on the scene who were close enough to witness misconduct taking place and did not take steps to intervene.

The Board is concerned that the lack of intervention may be the result of officers misinterpreting the requirement as only applying to use of force incidents, not being aware of the duty to intervene policy, and/or not feeling equipped to intervene in the actions of another officer.  

To address concerns regarding MPD’s duty to intervene policy and help improve and facilitate better relations and increase trust between MPD officers and community members, the PCB recommends the following:

  • MPD must ensure that all officers are aware that there is a duty to intervene, and this duty covers any type of misconduct, including but not limited to use of force.  The duty to intervene should be clearly delineated, in written guidance and training, outside the use of force context to make it clear that is not the only situation where it applies.  Updating the language in General Order 201.26, to include the duty to intervene and not just to report, would accomplish this goal.
     
  • MPD already shows a commitment to by-stander training, but should provide further guidance and training, similar to the Ethical Police is Courageous program, also known as EPIC, to all officers furnishing them with the tools to effectively intervene and handle the pressures that might otherwise prevent them from doing so.

“Clear understanding and enforcement of MPD’s duty to intervene policy can have a direct impact on community-police relations,” said Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director.  “It also provides an opportunity for increased accountability within the police department.”

To view the full report, visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov/page/policy-recommendations