WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Agencies across the country are making changes in light of recent conversations about police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd.
Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25 after officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Protests broke out in every state following Floyd’s death. President Donald Trump signed an order on police reform Tuesday he said would encourage better police practices.
Governor Cooper signed an executive order earlier this month, creating a task force to develop and help implement strategies and policies to eliminate systemic racism in the state’s criminal justice system. Within that executive order, the governor confirmed secretary of the Department of Public Safety Erik Hooks directed law enforcement agencies under the purview of DPS to ensure each division has a duty to intervene policy in place.
A duty to intervene policy mandates that officers step in and stop any case where they witness what they know to be excessive force or any other abuse of a suspect or arrestee. The way some policies read, intervention is required even if the officer using unreasonable force is from a completely different agency.
“A lot of times when officers are faced with a tense, fast-evolving situation sometimes they get tunnel vision, sometimes they may not realize the use of force they’re using is in fact over and above what is authorized. So officers responding secondary can have a more clear mind and when they see that it is unreasonable, it’s absolutely necessary for them to intervene and stop that use of force,” said Sunset Beach Police Department Chief Ken Klamar.
On a local level, many law enforcement agencies are actively revisiting their policies to ensure they’re up to date with the industry and the current climate.
“We like to review policies when there are changes either in the town or on a national level that might affect the way we do business. Of course with some of the recent things happening across the nation, it was a good opportunity for us to look at our use of force policy and ensure we have the best practices in place,” added Chief Klamar.
Sunset Beach Police Department is one of many agencies actively rewriting its policies to stay up to date with the changing landscape of the country. Their new Response to Resistance or Aggression policy is in the final stages of review and will include a section addressing an officer’s duty to intervene.
Several police departments and sheriff’s offices in our area have some form of duty to intervene policies in place, but even the departments with one already in place still emphasize the importance of consistently revising their policies. Nearly every law enforcement agency in the Cape Fear region that didn’t have a specific duty to intervene policy in place confirmed they were actively working to add one in light of recent events.
The Wrightsville Beach Police Department has had a comprehensive duty to intervene policy for years now. The policy was adopted in 2014 and revised in 2018. The department holds accreditations from CALEA and the League of Municipalities and while both groups shape and evaluate their policy, Captain Jason Bishop says there is still a constant effort within the department to continue to improve.
“As an agency, we all want to be on the good side of history so if there are any changes that we see we need to make we like to stay ahead of those,” said Captain Bishop. “Agencies have to be flexible to deal with these types of changes. This is just the beginning of what I’m sure is going to be a cultural change across law enforcement in general.”
The Leland Police Department is another agency that has had a duty to intervene policy in place for years. Last week, Leland’s town manager sent an email to the town’s council members with the police department’s use of force policy and their duty to intervene policy in an effort to be transparent and help leaders have informed conversations with their constituents about policing.
While the police chief believes having forward-thinking policies is important, he adds that continued training is another vital component of holding officers to a high standard.
“Policy is one thing and that’s paper and procedure that our officers use but we’ve got to train our officers and we have to continue that training. Our officers don’t know from one day to the next what they’re going to encounter. They don’t get to pick and choose who they serve,” said Leland Police Chief Brad Shirley. “We’re here to serve. We’re here to protect and that’s the basics of what we do, so anything we can do to improve the level of service that we provide is a win for everyone.”
They plan to implement a new policy platform this summer that allows officers to have a digital copy of the department’s policy on their phones and laptops. There will also be daily, scenario-based training bulletins officers must complete.
“It’s imperative that officers understand that if they recognize excessive use of force that they’re protected and they have to intervene and have to do those things. That’s a part of the training process that we’re going to be going through because some officers might be scared to speak up and that’s not what we’re looking for. That’s not what I’m looking for as a leader of this agency. I want people to identify problems, issues we might have within an agency so we can address them,” said Chief Shirley.
We reached out to law enforcement agencies across our five-county viewing area for their policies regarding duty to intervene. You can find responses from many of those agencies below.
Carolina Beach Police Department
Carolina Beach police have a duty to report misconduct policy in section 300-525 of their rules and regulations
Duty To Report Misconduct (A)
The Carolina Beach Police Department takes pride in its reputation as a professional law enforcement agency, and is committed to keeping its reputation free of any hint of corruption or scandal. All Department personnel bear the responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that would never bring their individual reputation or the reputation of this agency into question or dispute.
Department personnel bear a responsibility to report any violation of the North Carolina General Statutes or any Carolina Beach Police Department policy to their immediate supervisor or any superior officer. Failure to do so will be considered neglect of duty and subject to the tenets of progressive discipline.
New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office
Lt. Jerry Brewer with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office says the agency’s code of conduct addresses “the duty to report.”
Under the dereliction of duty section of the department’s code of conduct, “failure to properly report a violation of procedure incident occurring within NHCSO” is considered a dereliction of duty. Furthermore, employees of the sheriff’s office are not required to “obey orders which would require them to commit illegal, immoral or unethical acts” and “Superiors shall not issue any order which they know would require a subordinate to commit any illegal immoral or unethical acts.”
Wilmington Police Department
Wilmington police have their policies listed on their website here. WPD spokeswoman Linda Thompson says the department is working on updating their policies to include a more specific duty to intervene policy, but there are policies in place that require officers to report criminal behavior and render aid to members of the community.
REPORTING OF CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR Members shall report the criminal behavior of all persons employed by the Wilmington Police Department to their immediate supervisor. If it is necessary to bypass this supervisor, Professional Standards shall be notified. Members shall also report the violation of any departmental rules, regulations or the disobedience of an order to their supervisors.
2.10 ASSISTING THOSE IN NEED Officers shall conduct themselves so that the highest possible quality of law enforcement service is delivered to the community. Officers shall always be alert for and compassionate to those who are experiencing a crisis/emergency situation, lost, helpless, stranded, injured or ill. When necessary, appropriate assistance shall be rendered or arranged for by an officer.
Wrightsville Beach Police Department
Wrightsville Beach Police Department’s use of force policy has an entire section devoted to intervention by supervisors and peers. The policy documents note the orders have been effective since January 1, 2014.
Intervention by Supervisors and Peers
1. At the scene of a police incident, many officers of the department may be present and some officers may not be directly involved in taking police action. This does not relieve any officer present of the obligation to ensure the requirements of the law and this General Order are complied with. Officers are expected to maintain control or to intervene if the response to a subject’s resistance or aggression clearly becomes excessive.
2. In addition to taking immediate action to stop excessive force, members are required to report excessive force through the chain of command.
Their rule of conduct policy also requires members to report criminal behavior of their fellow employees or any violation of departmental rules to their immediate supervisor or the support services commander directly.
Burgaw Police Department
According to Burgaw Police Chief Jim Hock, the department does not currently have a specific policy addressing the duty to intervene. The chief confirms the department is in the process of modifying their existing policies to address issues including duty to intervene and they’ve reached out to law enforcement partners and have received sample policies and recommended alterations.
The department has policies that address personal conduct and conduct unbecoming of a police officer, however they do not specifically address the duty to report.
Chief Hock adds he also does quality control checks of officer body cameras.
“Incidents are randomly picked to be reviewed for proper techniques, demeanor, and advising of rights to citizens. Our officers are also required to complete a use of force report any time there is an elevated level of force needed to take a subject into custody or the use of the officers equipment (such as pointing of a firearm, taser, spray, etc.) These are completed by the officers and investigated even if there is no complaint filed by an individual,” said Hock.
Pender County Sheriff’s Office
The Pender County Sheriff’s Office does not have a specific duty to intervene policy, but their use of force policy includes the following guidelines for the application of force.
The Pender County Sheriff’s Office recognizes and respects the value and special integrity of each human life. By vesting Deputies with the lawful authority to use force to protect the public welfare, a careful balancing of all human interests is required. Therefore, it is the policy of the Pender County Sheriff’s Office that Deputies shall use only that force which is reasonably necessary to effectively bring an incident under control while protecting the lives of the officer or another. Deputies shall use physical force in arrest and custody situations only in strict conformance with the United States Constitution, the Constitution and laws of North Carolina, and this policy.
“As far as the Duty to Intervene, with the State considering making it a requirement for state agencies, I am sure discussions will be taking place to consider similar policies for all law enforcement agencies, " said Captain James Rowell.
Surf City Police Department
According to Surf City Police Chief Ron Shanahan the department has a use of force policy outlining the reporting process, but there is no specific duty to intervene clause.
“My staff and I will be reviewing all duty to intervene policies that the State or other municipal agencies have implemented in the near future,” said Chief Shanahan in an email.
Topsail Beach Police Department
The Topsail Beach Police Department does not currently have a duty to intervene policy within their use of force regulations.
“I am in the process of reviewing our policy and plan to incorporate language that reflects what is suggested by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety as sample policies are made available. I have always expected that my officers would do this regardless of being told or required, but given recent events; I think having a policy that provides a path for intervention is a good idea,” said Police Chief Sam Gervase.
Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office has a policy in their employee misconduct and investigations rules that mandates employees must notify the sheriff through the chain of command of any allegations of misconduct. The document states this policy was revised in 2018 and last reviewed in March of 2020.
C. Any allegations of corruption, brutality, misuse of force, breach of civil rights, officer involved shooting, and criminal misconduct should be brought immediately to the attention of the Sheriff. The chain of command will normally be utilized to inform the Sheriff of complaints against the agency or its employees. However, nothing herein prevents any employee with information about misconduct from going directly to the Sheriff, if necessary. (CALEA 26.3.2)
Leland Police Department
The Leland Police Department has policy in place addressing the duty to intervene. An email was sent out to town council members last Friday highlighting the policy to help public officials have informed conversations with their constituents.
Policy #200-005 titled “Use of Force & Reporting Procedures:”
It is the policy of this law enforcement agency that officers use only the force that reasonably appears necessary to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the lives of the officer and others. The officer must only use that force which a reasonably prudent officer would use under the same or similar circumstances. All officers must intervene, as soon as possible, and protect any person who is being subjected to excessive force by any other officer. Officers will report any excessive use of force to the appropriate department authority.
Under the same policy, IV. Procedures, Section B(3) states: The following techniques are prohibited when subduing or handcuffing suspects:
· Restraining and laying suspect prone in backseat
· Choke holds or knee across suspect’s neck.
According to the email from Chief Brad Shirley, the department’s policy was adopted in 2011 and last revised in 2013. Officers with the Leland Police Department receive training on the use of force policy upon hire during field training, and then annually thereafter.
Ocean Isle Beach Police Department
Ocean Isle Beach Police Department’s Response to Resistance or Aggression policy was issued and reviewed on Tuesday.
Chief J. K. Bellamy says the department relied on other existing policy and state statutes in the past, but given the current events, they felt it necessary to clarify the procedures used when encountering use of force scenarios.
II. DUTY TO INTERVENE
A. Officers have a duty to intervene to prevent the use of excessive force. Any officer present and observing another officer, from this agency or an outside agency, using force that is clearly unreasonable under the circumstances must, when in a position to do so safely, intervene to prevent the use of excessive force. Officers must promptly report any excessive or unreasonable force to a supervisor. Supervisors must respond and document the incident according to OIBPD policy 4.3.F.
Southport Police Department
According to Major Tony Burke, the Southport Police Department does have a policy in place making officers accountable for issues related to biased-based policing. “Our agency has been involved an extensive overhaul of all of our polices and procedures over the past year and a half. We, like most of the agencies in the area are continually evaluating current policies to ensure they are up to date and as complete as possible,” said Major Burke in an email.
Every member of this department shall perform his/her duties in a fair and objective manner and is responsible for promptly reporting any suspected or known instances of bias-based policing to a supervisor. Members should, when reasonable to do so, intervene to prevent any biased-based actions by another member.
Supervisors periodically review body camera footage as part of our oversight to ensure compliance policies and procedures.
Sunset Beach Police Department
According to police chief Ken Klamar, the Sunset Beach Police Department recently conducted a review of their policy manual and found that we did not have language addressing a duty to intervene.
A new policy regarding response to resistance or aggression has been drafted and is currently in the final stages of review. The policy review is expected to be completed this week.
Whiteville Police Department
The Whiteville Police Department is in the process of reviewing their policies at this time, according to division commander Major William Hinz.
“We started revising all of our policies several months ago in an attempt to become an Accredited Agency through CALEA standards. This process is very important to us as it will increase the professionalism of the department and make our department better as a whole. We hope to have this process completed within the year. The “Use of Force” policy with “Intervention” measures has been made a priority in this process,” said Major Hinz in an email.
This story will be updated as responses from additional agencies are received.