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Las Vegas Criminal Defense

The Bystander Effect In Policing


The nation has been riveted to the Derek Chauvin trial involving the death of George Floyd. Questions as to the efficacy impact of Chauvin’s actions are being weighed by a jury, and rightly so.  Floyd died after a police interaction that raised so many red flags that multiple bystanders called 911 to request assistance during the incident.  Civilians in the crowd, including an EMT and a dispatcher who viewed the scene via camera, expressed alarm at what they were witnessing, yet were unable to intervene.  Meanwhile, fellow police officers, who did have the power to stop what was happening, did virtually nothing.  Only one rookie officer even used verbal prompting to attempt to change the course of events.  None of the officers on scene took any physical action to alter the outcome.  Why?  Equally pertinent– is this the kind of policing the public can expect going forward?

The Bystander Effect 

Harvard Professor Francesca Gino was unsurprised by the officers’ lack of intervention during the George Floyd crisis.  Her studies of cultural norms and leadership led her to conclude that many behaviors that should be considered inexcusable were, in fact, likely tolerated in the department.  Research related to the bystander effect backs this up.  A study by the Latane team concluded that when more people witness something catastrophic, there is a greater likelihood that no one will intervene, as each individual expects someone else to take responsibility. This proves to be true among all groups of people, including police officers.

Bystander Effect or Contagion? 

In the Chauvin case, did fellow officers succumb to the bystander effect, or had Chauvin’s despicable attitudes and behavior contaminated his peers, making them equally ethically contemptible?  Studies show this possibility is entirely possible.  Did fellow officers fail to intervene because they feared reprisals, or because they shared Chauvin’s attitudes? In either case, the culture of the organization is clearly toxic.  The police chief claims to be working on culture reforms but says the police union opposes such efforts.

Training for Better Outcomes 

Attorney Jonathan Aronie notes that officers generally do not receive training to help them step in when situations on the job demand such action. That’s why he promoted the Ethical Policing is Courageous—Epic—program in 2014.  It teaches officers the steps to intervention:

  • Initiate with a pointed statement;
  • Ask a meaningful question;
  • Challenge verbally;
  • Intervene physically.

Additionally, the program instructs officers on how to accept interventions from others, and is not unlike training in professions like medicine and the military, where one mistake could have disastrous implications.

Nevada Training 

While a portion of the training for Nevada law enforcement does focus on ethics and integrity, there is currently little or no programming addressing the need to step in to stop a fellow officer from inappropriate conduct.  Yes, officers are expected to report such conduct, but training for intervention is lacking.

Lobo Law 

The experienced Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at Lobo Law are well acquainted with the shortcomings and imperfections of policing and are ever ready to defend our clients from the fallout of those imperfect actions.  If you have suffered the consequences of police misbehavior, we are here to help.  Contact us in our Las Vegas office for a confidential consultation today.




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