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Failure to Intervene

Liability and Law Enforcement: Understanding an Officer’s Duty to Intervene


In their line of duty, law enforcement officers are not only obligated to uphold the law but also to protect individuals from constitutional violations by their peers. This implies that an officer can be held liable if they are aware of a person’s rights being violated, have a chance to intervene, and yet consciously choose not to do so.

Legal Basis

42 USC § 1983 provides the legal groundwork for holding state actors, including police officers, accountable for failing to intervene in the prevention of the deprivation of citizens’ civil rights. Court have interpretted 42 USC § 1983 to mean that “police officers have a duty to intercede when their fellow officers violate the constitutional rights of a suspect or other citizen.” Cunningham v. Gates, 229 F.3d 1271, 1289 (9th Cir. 2000) (quotation omitted). “If an officer fails to intervene when fellow officers use excessive force, despite not acting to apply the force, he would be responsible for violating the Fourth Amendment.” Garlick v. Cty. of Kern, 167 F. Supp. 3d 1117, 1161 (E.D. Cal. 2016). However, “officers can be held liable for failing to intercede only if they had an opportunity to intercede.” Cunningham, 229 F.3d at 1289.

LEGAL UPDATES: California Mandates Police Intervention in Instances of Excessive Force

In a significant step toward criminal justice reform, California Governor Gavin Newsom enacted several new laws on October 1, 2021. Among these, a noteworthy provision requires police officers across the state to “intercede” if they witness a fellow officer using excessive force.

The law, known as AB 26, is partly a response to the circumstances surrounding the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where three officers on the scene did not intervene. Under this new legislation, not only are officers required to intervene in instances of excessive force, but they are also obliged to report the incident in real time. Importantly, officers cannot be punished for complying with these requirements.

The law further stipulates disciplinary action, up to and including termination, for officers who fail to intervene in such situations. Failure to intervene could also result in an officer’s certification being suspended or revoked.

AB 26 is a crucial step towards improving police accountability and trust within the community. The law signifies a crucial shift towards preventing “the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of police misconduct,” as state Senator Steve Bradford put it.

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Reach out to us if you’ve been harmed by police misconduct in Los Angeles. When you or a loved one has suffered undue harm or mistreatment at the hands of a police officer in Southern California, remember, you have the right to justice. Don’t let intimidation stand in your way. Rely on the seasoned police misconduct attorneys at the Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo in Los Angeles to offer the guidance and representation your case warrants. We’re here to hear your account and provide an assessment of your legal avenues. Contact us at (818) 347-3333 or fill out our contact form now. Contact Us