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Duty to intervene bill would require police to step in when other officers use excessive force

Posted at 8:34 AM, Jul 08, 2021

LANSING, Mich. — A new bill proposed by state Sen Ruth Johnson would require all law enforcement agencies in Michigan to adopt "duty to intervene" policies, which would require officers, regardless of rank, to step in when they see other officers using excessive force on the job.

“I introduced the same bill last session and reintroduced it in 2021 on the one year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “It was just so disturbing to see what happened and how some of the police officers saw it and they didn’t react at all.”

Johnson said she wants to see officers trained and empowered to act when they see abuse on the job. Her legislation is part of a 12-bill package that tackles several aspects of police reform.

Scott Wolfe, an associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice, explained that many law enforcement agencies across the county already have duty to intervene policies in place.

“Many agencies have been initiating their own duty to intervene policies with great success,” he said.” I think the duty to intervene policies within individual agencies are a good idea when they have a solid foundation for what they expect of their officers and if there’s sufficient training.”

Wolf said that departments can run into trouble with these policies when officers are not properly trained on how to use them or when officers don’t know what expectations to follow.

“It’s not a light switch but gradually starting that social change that it’s acceptable to intervene when one of your colleagues in your mind is doing something that they shouldn’t,” he said.

In practice, Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth said, these policies need to take into account that sometimes officers can’t step in right away.

“There may be instances out there in law enforcement that it might not be practical,” he said. “We don’t live in a perfect world and there could be instances where we see something and we just aren’t physically able to intervene and stop it because we’re having our own issues.”

Johnson’s duty to intervene bill still has a number of hurdles to overcome before it can be placed on the books. It is now under review by the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee in the Senate.