City Council says Atlanta police should strengthen its officer ‘duty to intervene’ policy

Atlanta police officers investigate a shooting after a gunman tried to steal an armored truck this week. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Atlanta police officers investigate a shooting after a gunman tried to steal an armored truck this week. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The Atlanta City Council is urging the Atlanta Police Department to revise its policy that requires officers to intervene if they see a colleague violating the law or department rules.

The Council unanimously passed a resolution this week focused on the department’s “duty to intervene” policy, which also directs officers to report fellow officers to supervisors if they spot misconduct.

Discussions over officers’ duty to intervene reached the national level after last year’s killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died May 25, 2020, after Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Three other Minneapolis officers were on scene at the time and did nothing to end the encounter.

“Had an officer intervened with regards to Chauvin, then maybe George Floyd would still be alive today,” said Councilman Antonio Brown, the sponsor of the legislation. Brown introduced the measure the day before Chauvin was found guilty of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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Atlanta already has a duty-to-intervene directive; Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an administrative order last June directing the police department to adopt one. The new resolution encourages the department to add more specific guidance and examples for when and how an officer should step in. It also suggests implementing procedures so that officers who report are protected from retaliation.

“We have to support our officers,” Brown said. “There are changes that need to happen in the city of Atlanta.”

APD Assistant Chief Todd Coyt said in a statement that a duty to intervene training initiative for all ranks of the department is underway.

“The training covers the duty to intervene to stop an act of excessive force as well as a duty to intercede in any act which would be illegal, unethical, or diminish the trust of the citizenry,” Coyt said, adding that the training explicitly bars retaliating against an officer who intervenes or reports cases of excessive force.

A recent analysis by the Council on Criminal Justice found that 72 of the 100 largest police agencies in the county had duty to intervene policies; 21 of those were adopted after last June.

DeKalb County police added a similar policy following Floyd’s death.

The Atlanta Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Council’s resolution.