DeKalb police adds ‘duty to intervene’ policy

The DeKalb County Police Department recently added a “duty to intervene” policy for use of force situations, Chief Mirtha Ramos said Tuesday.

The policy requires that officers intervene when a colleague is “using force that is clearly beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstances.” It also requires them to report the incident to a supervisor.

Activists and civil rights leaders have pushed law enforcement agencies to adopt duty to intervene and other use of force policies in the wake of recent police killings that have sparked protests across the country.

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George Floyd, a black Minnesota man, died May 25 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.

Ramos said DeKalb police officers were already “expected” to intervene when colleagues use excessive force. But the department codified that expectation last week.

“Officers know that we will be holding them accountable if they see something that's unacceptable and they don't intervene or report,” Ramos said during a Tuesday afternoon briefing with DeKalb’s Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners also asked Ramos and public safety director Jack Lumpkin about a number of other policies within the police department.

They said DeKalb officers undergo annual use of force and de-escalation training, as well as “procedural justice” courses aimed at tackling implicit bias.

Department policy also prohibits “any kind of neck restraint of chokehold.” It prohibits shooting at moving vehicles “except as the ultimate measure of self-defense or defense of another when the suspect is using deadly force.”

Ramos said the department rarely uses “no-knock warrants,” where officers storm into a home without warning to try and serve warrants. Such practices have long been criticized but have gained new attention after police shot and killed Breonna Taylor, a black medical worker in Louisville, Kentucky, while serving such a warrant.

Ramos said only two of the 456 search warrants DeKalb police served in 2019 were of the no-knock variety, but the agency was reviewing policies nonetheless.

Existing policy allows for no-knock warrants when individuals in a home could be in danger or when evidence could be destroyed if targets are alerted beforehand. Ramos said the latter could soon be removed as a potential justification.

“We don’t want to risk anybody's life over some property,” she said.

Sheriff’s office

DeKalb County Sheriff Melody Maddox, meanwhile, recently announced a new “community commission on policy review” that will focus on her agency’s use of force policies.

The sheriff’s office runs the county jail but also serves warrants in the community, including with its fugitive unit.

The sheriff's office is accepting resident nominations for the new commission until 5 p.m. on June 23. Nominations can be submitted at dekalbsheriff.org.