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Some of Tampa Bay’s largest law enforcement agencies adopt duty to intervene policies

The additions are the first concrete policy changes since locals from Clearwater to St. Petersburg joined groups across the country protesting racism and policy brutality.
St. Petersburg Chief of Police Anthony Holloway speaks with protestors outside of City Hall just prior to a march Saturday, June 6, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
St. Petersburg Chief of Police Anthony Holloway speaks with protestors outside of City Hall just prior to a march Saturday, June 6, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 8, 2020
Updated Jun. 8, 2020

Some of Tampa Bay’s largest law enforcement agencies have updated their policies requiring officers to intervene when they see a colleague engaging in wrongdoing.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and the Clearwater and St. Petersburg police departments already require officers to report misconduct they observe to a supervisor. But the updated policies will require police to intervene in the moment, the agencies’ leaders all said Monday.

“We’ve trained it in the past in scenario-based training, so I’m comfortable we’ve communicated it with the staff, but I do think it warrants being a little more clear in the policy,” Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter said at a press conference on Monday following a meeting with the Pinellas County Ministerial Alliance about the department’s culture and practices.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who also met with the ministers, said he is developing a report that will detail policies he plans to change and highlight policies he already has in place that are being proposed nationwide as urgent reforms. Among new policies on deck, he said at the press conference, will be a requirement that officers intervene when they see misconduct.

“There are other areas of the policy where you could say that it is inherently required but it doesn’t explicitly say it so we’re going to add that in there and it’s a good idea,” Gualtieri said.

St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway announced at a press conference on Monday that he added the policy after days of talking with community members.

“If they see someone violating the law, an ordinance or a policy or procedure they will intervene," Holloway said. "They’ll go over and say ‘Hey stop doing this.’”

The Tampa Police Department also updated their policy in response to the 8 Can’t Wait Campaign, which calls for law enforcement agencies to enact eight policies it says are proven to curtail police violence, spokesperson Jamel Lanee’ said Monday. The department’s policy already required officers to report misconduct and the department added language to make it clear officers also have a duty to intervene in the moment.

The remarks from the four agencies mark the first concrete policy changes since hundreds of demonstrators in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater — joining groups nationwide — began protesting racism and policy brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death last month at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Hillsborough sheriff’s officials said they already have a duty to intervene directive and that deputies are taught they have a “duty to act” if they see misbehavior by other deputies.

“This may mean different things to different people outside of law enforcement, but in our agency, any deputy who sees another deputy use force beyond anything that is objectively reasonable and necessary under the circumstances must intervene to stop the use of excessive force,” a news release from the agency states. “Not only are our deputies required to act, but they must also report the issue to a supervisor.”

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Related: ‘What we want’: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful

Holloway said the change was made to make it clear to young officers and the community that police will intervene when they see an officer doing something wrong.

Previously, the St. Petersburg Police Department had rules requiring officers to notify a supervisor of any policy violations by their colleagues, and to “take necessary action" if a colleague violates a law or local ordinance. The new rule requires officers to intervene in the moment.

Holloway said penalties for violating this policy would be decided based on the situation but could include additional training, suspension or firing. He said it’s important to make sure supervisors are enforcing the policy so there are consequences to violating it.

“If it’s in the policy, it’s in the policy for a reason,” Holloway said. “You’re going to abide by that policy and procedure.”

The requirements to intervene carry special significance following Floyd’s death. Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for close to 9 minutes as Floyd begged for his life. Three other officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — were on the scene and didn’t intervene.

All four officers were fired. Prosecutors charged Chauvin with murder four days after Floyd’s death. The remaining officers were charged days later, all on counts of aiding and abetting murder.

Related: Tampa Bay agencies say they urge officers to report, stop police brutality when they see it

St. Petersburg Officer Jonathan Vazquez, president of the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association, said the policy addition is supported by union members.

“This has been the common practice at SPPD for as long as I’ve been here,” Vazquez said in a text message.

Slaughter said he is confident his department has fostered a culture where officers already feel they can intervene in incidents of misconduct without repercussions, from errors on reports to excessive use of force. But solidifying the mandate in policy is a positive step, he said.

“I think the culture is already there but it requires continuous reinforcement,” Slaughter said.