Defining Police Peer Intervention
Photo Courtesy: NOPD News
Comments following my article “Peer Intervention Interoperability” on www.lawofficer.com and some LinkedIn group conversations helped me realize I was operating with a blind-spot bias when discussing peer intervention in a policing context. Many of the comments indicated an interpretation of “peer intervention” as relating to co-workers doing an intervention with someone having a problem with depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or some other officer wellness concern. While that kind of intervention is important, it is not what those of us promoting peer intervention in the law enforcement industry mean in this post-Ferguson era of policing.
The confusion is understandable because the phrase is used in a variety of contexts. In recent articles and publications, the phrase “peer intervention” has been used in reference to employee assistance programs1, anti-bullying campaigns2, dealing with the mentally ill3, peer-to-peer recovery4, teen suicide prevention5, sexual assault prevention6, and a host of other wellness and relationship issues.7
The concept, as we are using it, also does not equate to early intervention systems (EIS) that have been in place in many departments since the 1980’s. The purpose of an EIS is to systematically analyze behavior patterns in individual officers with a view toward preventing future incidents of misconduct and identifying trends that suggest the need for training and/or policy and procedure adjustments. Hopefully, I can share some thoughts in this article that clear up the misconceptions and move the discussion about this important topic forward.
Michael Quinn, of the International Ethics and Leadership Training Bureau, recently released a 3rd edition of his 2005 book, Walking With The Devil: The Police Code of Silence, with chapters on peer intervention. In the book, Quinn explains that peer intervention is about an officer’s intentions and actions to ensure another officer’s survival – survival of their career, their family, and their freedom. Peer intervention is not a new concept. It is an operational tactic that has been around, under different names and in a variety of work environments, for some time. In law enforcement, peer intervention is a promise to correct and/or accept correction before the conduct becomes misconduct.8
As Quinn points out, ultimately, peer intervention is not just an officer survival tactic, or a safeguard for individual or departmental reputations. It is a critical element of every police agency’s mission: to protect the constitutional rights of every citizen, preserve police legitimacy, and promote procedural justice for all.9
Quinn was instrumental in the development of the first-of-its-kind peer intervention program developed by the New Orleans Police Department under the direction of Jacob Lundy. EPIC (Ethical Policing Is Courageous)10 is a program incorporated into every level and every department of the NOPD that not only explains what peer intervention is but instructs officers on how to do it. “EPIC is a peer intervention program; a program that teaches officers how to intervene to stop a wrongful act before it occurs.”11
Certainly, many of us have seen this type of peer intervention in the past when one officer starts to lose it, starts tossing F-bombs, maybe cranks down a little too hard, and another officer pulls him back, steps in between and diffuses the situation. I have done it, I have seen it done, I’ve heard of it being done and I’m sure you have as well. But these occurrences are incidental, not institutional. We need to move toward the time when this kind of peer intervention is the norm, the taught, the expected, and not the exception.
What do I mean by making peer intervention “institutional?” Departments need to implement policies and develop (or adopt) programs that give permission to and protection for officers who intervene to stop or prevent the misconduct of other officers. Every officer on the force needs to understand, explicitly, that being a part of the department means you agree to accept and receive intervention when appropriate. Peer intervention will truly be institutional when everyone understands that it can take place regardless of rank. Every officer will know that if an officer sees his partner, or sergeant, or captain or any other officer about to step over the line, he has the right and responsibility to intervene, for the sake of that officer, the department, and the community, without fear of discipline, retribution or reprisal.
Peer intervention and police climate management, which I discuss in my book Officer Up!, are two sides of the same coin. We need to understand the impact of culture and the dynamics of the work climate to effectively create and maintain a work environment that promotes the kind of appropriate police behavior intervention represents. These two factors are not the only aspects but are necessary aspects of how we, as the police, police ourselves.
Peer intervention, as defined here and in other programs like EPIC, needs to become the industry standard in policy, training, and practice. Police peer intervention must become the industry standard for appropriate police behavior if we are to reduce incidents of misconduct and transform misconceptions of how police operate, both within the community and within our own ranks. Developing, implementing, and maintaining a peer intervention component to police practice is an essential part of creating a culture of integrity with respectful, fair, lawful, effective and constitutional policing that increases police legitimacy and builds community trust.
Sergeant Tim Tremaine is a patrol supervisor with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office in Fort Worth, Texas and author of Officer Up! Creating a Climate for Appropriate Police Behavior.
8Quinn, Michael. Walking With The Devil: The Police Code of Silence, 3rd Edition – The Promise of Peer Intervention. Midpoint Trade Books, Inc., New York, 2016. p. 125-143.
11EPIC Instructors Manual, copywrite 2016 New Orleans Police Department.