Trending Topics

Using scenarios to train the duty to intervene

A recurring question during training is “How can the intervening officer tell if excessive force is being used during a rapidly evolving situation?”


Effectively working as a team is an essential component to police use of force. Recognizing when a member of the team is not performing their role appropriately is an important element of team work.

Tyson Kilbey

Editor’s note: Download our digital edition, “Developing a Culture of Accountability,” to find out how agencies can weave the duty to intercede throughout their policies and training.

Several topics and concepts are essential for a law enforcement officer to understand. Interestingly, one of those topics that has received much more attention in the last few years is the duty to intervene.

Essentially, this involves recognizing when another officer is using or is about to use excessive force and intervening either physically, verbally, or both.

It takes a highly skilled trainer to teach this concept effectively. In this article, I will share some of the most important things I have learned about training the duty to intervene.

An infrequent occurrence

When teaching the duty to intervene, one of the first things I emphasize to new officers is that these instances are infrequent. Statistically, use of force by police is highly uncommon (less than 2% of all police-community contacts according to some studies). Cases in which an officer uses excessive force are even much less than that. While this does not make the duty to intervene any less critical, it does put into perspective that for most incidents, officers use objectively reasonable force.

Know the law and your policies

The next point to consider is that for decades federal law has made it clear that police officers must intervene when they see excessive force, and they have a reasonable opportunity to do so. In addition to federal law, many state laws and individual departments have policies requiring their officers to intervene when they witness excessive force. As with most areas of law enforcement, knowing relevant laws and department policies is the first step to understanding the topic.

Why officers must intervene

Once the topic is put into perspective and the appropriate laws and policies are identified, I have found it helps to explain in further detail why it is so essential to understand the duty to intervene:

  1. The intervening officer could save a citizen from unnecessary injury and violation of their constitutional rights.
  2. The intervening officer could save an officer overwhelmed by the stress and uncertainty of a situation from using force they may not have used under less stressful conditions.
  3. An intervening officer may help avoid a situation in which the community’s perception of law enforcement is negatively impacted.

Communication is one of the most important aspects of multiple-officer situations. This includes communication among the officers as well as communication with the subject.

Photo/Tyson Kilbey

The value of scenario-based training

Scenario-based training is one of the most impactful ways to train the duty to intervene. One way to do this is to have the officers in training respond to a call in which a role player is demonstrating potential indicators of excessive force, such as profanities toward the subject, additional strikes beyond what appears reasonable, etc. and observe what the student does to intervene.

Once the scenario is complete, an active discussion and debriefing of the situation usually results in valuable learning points.

A recurring question during these debriefs is “How can the intervening officer tell if excessive force is being used during a rapidly evolving situation?” The answer is they may not be able to. Because of this, an officer needs to assess what is going on in real time and be ready to intervene if they have evidence that it is necessary.

For example, an officer may see another officer striking a subject upon initial approach, only to discover that the subject has a knife or other weapon not initially visible to the backup officer. That is just one of many scenarios in which a responding officer must take a moment to assess the situation before immediately jumping in to intervene.


Scenario-based training is one of the best ways to explore some of the critical concepts of the duty to intervene.

Photo/Tyson Kilbey

Another question that often arises is what is an appropriate way to intervene. Tapping the officer on the back and giving them an additional job, such as providing a radio update or getting some equipment, is a potentially effective way to remove them from using force. This can be difficult for officers, especially if the officer they are removing is senior or higher ranking than them. But it is the right thing for the right reason and finding this courage in a time of need is critical.

Top tip

One training scenario I have used effectively is having an officer or group of officers respond to a scene in which an officer is in the process of handcuffing a subject who is in the prone position. The subject is not resisting the officer but the role-playing officer is exhibiting signs of exhaustion, anger and a lack of composure. This can be accomplished through the language and tone of the role player.

The objective of the scenario would be for the responding officers to safely get the subject into custody and a recovery position while also recognizing that the initial officer should be removed from the situation. There is more than one way to accomplish these objectives, and they make for excellent discussion points at the conclusion of the scenario.


Most officers do not use excessive force, but many have been in situations where their stress level has risen to where they are not in the best position to be actively involved in the incident, especially if other officers are present. So, if another officer intervenes and removes them from the incident, they are most likely doing it to help everyone involved.

As I said at the beginning, this is a difficult and important topic to understand. Train hard and be safe!

Tyson Kilbey has more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement, consisting of three years as a hotel security supervisor and 22 years as a deputy sheriff for the Johnson County (Kansas) Sheriff’s Office. He has worked in the detention, patrol and training divisions, SWAT and accident investigation units. He is currently a captain of the Training Unit for the Sheriff’s Office.

Tyson authored “Personal Defense Mastery,” a follow-up to his first book “Fundamental Handgun Mastery.” Tyson is a Jiu-Jitsu black belt under UFC Pioneer Royce Gracie. He has numerous defensive tactics and firearms certifications and has received multiple awards in competitive shooting and grappling. He is the Match Director for the Brandon Collins Memorial Shootout, a shooting competition named in honor of a deputy who died in the line of duty. Proceeds from the match go to charitable causes.