21st Century Policing: Peer Intervention Interoperability

When I wrote Officer Up! Creating a Climate for Appropriate Police Behavior, I had not heard the term “peer intervention,” but that’s exactly what I had in mind.  The emerging “peer intervention” movement in the policing world has been adopted from other disciplines that have recognized the need for everyone to have the ability, authority, permission, and protection to stop behavior that might result in accidents, failures, or misconduct.  This response stems from recent high-profile incidents of police misconduct, or perceived misconduct, and the resulting commissions, studies, and reports indicating the need to recognize and develop this capability within the policing enterprise.

Most of us in the police world are familiar with the term “interoperability” from FEMA’s NIMS and ICS training.  Since 9/11 communication interoperability has been a priority, hence the advent of plain language talk over the radio and the introduction of IO channels, giving agencies across the country the ability to talk over common radio frequencies.  FEMA defines interoperability as the “ability of systems, personnel, and equipment to provide and receive functionality, data, information and/or services to and from other systems, personnel, and equipment, between both public and private agencies, departments, and other organizations, in a manner enabling them to operate effectively together. Allows emergency management/response personnel and their affiliated organizations to communicate within and across agencies and jurisdictions via voice, data, or video-on-demand, in real time, when needed, and when authorized.”

I felt that we needed a tool that could prevent or correct misconduct, not only within the day-to-day climate of police work, but in the heat of the moment on the street.  That tool needed to be easily understood, easily accessible, and easily adoptable.  The result is the LEGiT® model.  LEGiT® is a double acrostic that targets appropriate police behavior by communicating fundamental principles in one breath, for those trained to use it.  “Keep it LEGiT®” or “that’s not LEGiT®” could be enough to keep a fellow officer, or oneself, from going over the line and creating the kind of trouble we have become all too acquainted with lately.

Peer intervention programs are in the works.  Each will be tailored to the needs and desires of the individual department.  My suggestion is that, in conjunction with these programs, we need peer intervention interoperability.  We work with other agencies (city, county, state, federal) and other disciplines (fire, EMS, medical, corrections) all the time.  The next step is to have an interoperability tool so that these agencies and disciplines can “cross-talk” to one another.  If all the agencies in my county shared a common intervention language, the city cop who comes to assist me, a county deputy, could intervene on my behalf quickly and effectively.  That’s what the LEGiT® model is designed to do.

Small agencies and rural departments provide cross-agency assistance and mutual aid regularly.  These days, large departments are dotted with other police agencies such as university, hospital, and transit police, etc.  The ability to effectively do peer intervention intra-agency is great but the next logical step is to have the capability to do that inter-agency. Modeled after the FEMA definition of interoperability, my definition of peer intervention interoperability is “the ability of personnel to give and receive intervention from other personnel and other agencies in a manner capable of preventing or correcting potential misconduct. Allows police service personnel and their affiliated organizations to communicate within and across agencies and jurisdictions using common concepts and terminology.”  Broad acceptance and utilization of the LEGiT® program could give us that capability.

I have a hyper-utilitarian approach to things, often to the chagrin of my family and friends.  If something isn’t useful or serves no purpose, I have little interest in it.  The beauty of using the LEGiT® model is that, even if someone is not trained in the program, it still can serve a purpose.  The term “legit,” as an abbreviation for legitimate in the popular vernacular, is universally understood and carries enough meaning to make it useful as an interoperability tool.

In my book Officer Up!, there are two foci for peer intervention: internally, as we deal with one another in our work climate which sets the stage for the exercise of authority, and externally, as we interact with citizens in the course of our duties which includes the exercise of authority.  Since the book predates my introduction to the terminology, there are no references to “peer intervention” in the text.  My hope is that readers will keep that concept in mind as they read the book and think about how the ideas expressed therein might be applied in their setting.

Although this book was written with the police service in mind, training for peer intervention and having a common peer intervention tool or technique can be useful for any organization involved in public safety, whether it’s law enforcement, corrections, off-duty services, or private security.  Imagine the pain (physical, emotional, financial, etc.) that could be avoided when even one incident of misconduct is prevented or one opportunity for de-escalation is seized upon.  As a profession, law enforcement can take the initiative to make the changes our communities demand and deserve.  In regards to better policing ourselves – preemptively – “Officer Up!” is one way to achieve that goal.

I adhere to the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Consequently, I am offering to send a free digital copy of the new edition of the book to any police service executive (public safety director, chief of police, or sheriff) who requests one through the website www.officerup.us until March 31, 2017.  The book currently retails for $10.99 USD on Amazon.  If the executive decides to adopt the program and distribute the book to his/her department, they can order copies of the book directly through the website for the discounted price of $7.00 USD each, regardless of the size of their department.  Use the contact page on the website or email admin@officerup.us and mention this article.

(Adapted from the Preface to the Second Edition of Officer Up! Creating a Climate for Appropriate Police Behavior.)


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