ACTION BRIEF

Redefining Qualified Immunity

Issue

Many high-profile cases of police using excessive force, such as the death of George Floyd, have highlighted the need for clear policies requiring officers to intervene when they witness a fellow officer using excessive force. Before Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests, only 51 of America’s 100 largest cities had policies outlining officers’ duty to intervene and report such incidents. The lack of clear policies and the use of ambiguous language in existing policies have contributed to the failure of police oversight and accountability, allowing the use of unjustified force to continue unabated.Key Statistics and Facts:

  • Only 72 of America’s 100 largest cities have policies outlining officers’ duty to intervene and requiring them to report incidents when their fellow officers use excessive force.

  • Research suggests that less than 50% of the largest 100 law enforcement departments have duty to intervene policies.

  • Officers in police departments with more restrictive duty to intervene and use of force policies are less likely to be assaulted, injured, or killed on the job, although a causal relationship has not been established.

  • The U.S. Department of Justice’s guiding principles on law enforcement duty to intervene use conditional language, stating that an officer who “purposefully allows” a fellow officer to violate a victim’s Constitutional rights “may be prosecuted” for failure to intervene.Recommendations:

The Center for Justice Research calls for the following actions to advance police reform at the state, local, and federal levels:1. Clarification and legal guidance on the Supreme Court standing and departmental policies on the duty to intervene.

  1. The Department of Justice to create clear national standards establishing law enforcement officers’ duty to intervene.

  2. The enforcement of disciplinary actions when officers and administrators fail to abide by duty to intervene standards/requirements.

  3. The adoption of state and local laws/policies to ensure that every police officer and police agency understands the responsibility to intervene and stop the use of excessive and deadly force by fellow officers.

  4. An establishment of duty to intervene evaluative approaches.