How to be each other’s keeper

Do correctional officers have a responsibility to intervene when a colleague loses control of their emotions or uses excessive force? The answer is obvious: agents have an ethical, moral and, in many cases, political reason to do so. But why do many agents not intervene or attempt to defuse? Here are some reasons:

  • Peer pressure
  • Fear
  • Prejudices/prejudices
  • Apathy
  • Failing to recognize that they are empowered to act
  • Lack of training/understanding
  • Agency Culture

What if Derek Chauvin’s fellow officers had intervened to ensure that once George Floyd was restrained, he was immediately moved to his side or in an upright position? Unfortunately, there are too many examples of officers failing to intervene when other officers lose their temper or use excessive force. Appropriate and timely intervention can save a colleague and their department from personal and professional embarrassment, loss of community trust, and civil and criminal lawsuits.

In these situations, agents are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Officers must be authorized and trained in how to verbally defuse and physically intervene, regardless of rank or seniority. Such an intervention requires courage and courage, both professional and personal. A day of “response duty” training can help develop these response skills.

Duty to Respond Training Scenarios

Each training scenario requires actors, an evaluator and a security guard.

Prior to training, your agency should develop a department-wide verbal cue. At the sheriff’s office where I retired, the call to action was “your shoes are untied.” This would be the signal to move from the contact position to a cover position or to move away from the main event. Whatever the signal, your department must develop one.

Scenario 1: Admission

An officer (trainee) is dispatched to help with the reception of several prisoners (actors). When they arrive, there are already two other officers (role players) there. One of them can be heard loudly addressing an inmate. Their eyes are locked and both are screaming and swearing. Both are tense with hands fists and standing chest to chest. The other officer who is present freezes on the spot. The trainee and the actors in the role of the officer are aware of the verbal intervention signal.

Expected results

  • Immediate backup request.
  • Loud announcement of their presence by the rescue officer.
  • Use of the verbal intervention signal.
  • Gentle physical contact with officers elbow, shoulder or duty belt to ensure safe separation.
  • Appropriate use of distance to separate the officer from the main event.
  • Ask a second officer to assist with the security of the inmate.
  • Monitoring request or notification.

Scenario 2: Transportation

Two officers are present, one trainee and the other actor. An inmate (role player) is prepared for transport with a waist chain, front handcuffs and leg irons. Once properly restrained, the inmate refuses to walk as instructed and the officer (role-player) tries to force the inmate forward. The inmate resists and the officer begins to loudly shout and swear. The inmate makes a verbal threat and the officer places the inmate in a rear choke hold. The trainee and the actor are aware of the verbal intervention signal.

Expected results

  • Immediate backup request.
  • Loud announcement of their presence by the rescue officer.
  • Use of the verbal intervention signal.
  • Physical contact or restraint to ensure safe separation.
  • Appropriate use of distance to distance the officer from the main event.
  • Provide assistance to the inmate.
  • Request for medical assistance.
  • Monitoring request or notification.

Identification of storm warnings

While it is important to be aware of the warning signs in other agents, it is equally important to be aware of yourself. It is essential to identify in advance the signs that may indicate that an agent is triggered.

These “storm warnings” may include:

  • Loss of emotional or physical control
  • red face
  • A negative change in tone or behavior
  • Screaming or yelling uncontrollably
  • Use profanity
  • Behavior too militaristic
  • Impatience
  • Competitiveness
  • Argumentative
  • Spit while speaking
  • move too close
  • Rigid body language
  • Make fake unrealistic threats
  • To stammer, stutter, or be meaningless
  • Being physically violent or aggressive
  • Out of area
  • Being too calm and cool, out of context of the situation.

How to intervene

Once storm-like behaviors are recognized, it is essential to act as quickly as safely possible.

  • Call for backup. Depending on the situation, it could be extremely difficult to deal with your fellow officer and the main event.
  • Move slowly, at an angle. If possible, identify yourself and gently touch the officer’s shoulder, telling them you have it. Ask them to step back. Verbally reassure them that everything is fine. If they’re in a high emotional state, it’s best to keep them as far away from the main event as possible. Distance can be your friend. The further the agent is from the main event, the faster de-escalation can occur.

If touching the shoulder does not have the desired effect, here are two alternative approaches:

  • Move slowly, identify yourself. Gently tap the officer’s elbow to escort him away from the main event.
  • Move slowly, identify yourself. Grasp the back of the officer’s duty belt and gently pull it back while maintaining physical contact.
  • Be prepared for physical resistance. If the officer is physically violent, restraint techniques may be needed to bring the situation under control. Be aware that they may react angrily or be aggressive.
  • After the event. Once the agent has calmed down, encourage self-responsibility and recommend that he report to his immediate supervisor. It is always best for the supervisor to hear about the incident from the subject officer first.

develop a culture of responsibility

Most law enforcement officers agree with the premise of the intervention. A 2017 Pew Research study found that while most officers say their use-of-force policies and procedures are appropriate and helpful, 84% said fellow officers should be required to intervene when they believe another officer is about to use unnecessary force.

Training should take place to provide officers with the verbal and physical skills they will need to respond. This will encourage and develop a culture of peer accountability; improve public perception and confidence; avoid embarrassment; and reduce civil and criminal liability. If we truly care about each other, our profession, and our communities, then we will truly strive to be each other’s stewards.

NEXT: Bystander Effect: Abuse of Authority and Why We Don’t Respond

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