DEFINING POLICE PEER INTERVENTION: It may not be what you think. (Published on LinkedIn May 18, 2017)
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, that 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.
8 Quinn, 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.
11 EPIC Instructors Manual, copywrite 2016 New Orleans Police Department.
21st Century Policing: Peer Intervention Interoperability (published on www.lawofficer.com)
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."
What is new in the police world is the emerging "peer intervention" movement. This concept is being adopted from other disciplines who have recognized the need for everyone to have the ability, authority, protection, and permission to stop behavior that may 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.
When I wrote "Officer Up!" I had not heard the term "peer intervention," but that's exactly what I had in mind. 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 to acquainted with lately.
Peer intervention programs are in the works. Each will be tailored to the needs and desires of the individual department. These programs will explain the who, what, when, where, and why of peer intervention. 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 back me, a county deputy, could intervene on my behalf quickly and effectively. That's what the LEGiT® model is designed to do. LEGiT® is an answer to the how of peer intervention.
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.
Although I am convinced of the efficacy of the program, it's not my opinion that matters. Consequently, I am offering to send a free digital copy 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. The book currently retails for $10.99 USD on Amazon. If the executive decides to utilize the program by distributing 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, regardless of the size of their department. Use the contact page on the website or email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention LinkedIn Discount. I adhere to the old adage, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
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. "Officer Up!' is one way to achieve that goal.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CLIMATE IN POLICE WORK (Published at https://cpoa.org/importance-climate-police-work/)
In response to the avalanche of complaints and protests surrounding police shootings over the past two years, the United States Department of Justice has conducted numerous inquiries into departments around the country. Four major studies into police departments, and policing as a whole, have been published in the last 18 months. Three were in response to issues in specific departments: Ferguson, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The other was the Final Report of the President’s Taskforce on 21st Century Policing.
The cumulative result of these studies is dozens of recommendations and action items for departments to implement in bringing long-term improvement to their community interaction. These recommendations focus on building trust, restoring legitimacy, and establishing the principle of procedural justice. Most of these recommendations are reasonable and prudent and will, in the long-term, result in greater operational efficacy. Many of the recommendations involve implementing or expanding various elements of community-based policing. They also include policy revisions and processes that incorporate community input and oversight.
The drawback is that these recommendations are systemic cultural changes that will take time, can be expensive, and may encounter opposition which creates delay. This aspect of change is highlighted in the October 8, 2016 Chicago Tribune article on the Chicago Police Department policy proposals when it states, “It remains unclear what version of the rules will ultimately take effect, and the department has provided itself room to change course if any of the proposals prove controversial.”
Analyzing, developing, and refining new policies and procedures which then have to be approved and incorporated into a department’s general orders, manuals, and standard operating procedures is a time-intensive process. If the police unions or associations, or the public, disagree with the new policies, there could be a long series of negotiations increasing the man-hour investment and delay in implementation. That is followed by the distribution and training process which usually is scheduling nightmare. This kind of change in the organizational culture can be difficult and time consuming.
People often use the word “culture” but I am not sure we all have the same definition. Scholars who study the subject say organizational culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions that manifests from the policies, procedures, and practices of the organization over time. Culture embodies shared ideologies, interrelated beliefs about how things work, values the organization deems worth having, and behavior that is considered normal. Typically, line officers and first line supervisors have no control over their organizational culture and little, if any, input into the change process. And yet, it is the behavior of line officers and supervisors that is most often in question when high profile incidents occur.
What can be done to quickly impact officer behavior in a positive way while these long-term improvements are in the works? Policing our communities must continue. We cannot just stop production and wait for the new year model dies to arrive, like in the manufacturing industry. I believe the answer is to make organic changes in the climate of the police work environment. We may not have control over our organizational culture but we, as officers and supervisors, can control the climate or psychological atmosphere of our work environments. We react passionately, with indignation, to those who protest the police but we cannot control them either. Our focus should be on what we can control: our thoughts, our words, and our actions. This is not discipline in the sense of punishment or correction, it’s discipline in terms of self-control.
The terms culture and climate are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Organizational climate is the shared meaning members attach to their particular setting within the culture. It’s the way people feel about their work environment. Climate is made up of the perceptions the members have about the atmosphere at work. We can have a climate of support or a climate of fear, a climate of acceptance or a climate of rejection, a climate for excellence or a climate for mediocracy. What we say to ourselves and about ourselves contributes to the climate of the workplace. The climate then can either facilitate or inhibit legitimate behavior.
We need to recognize the impact that our work climate has on our work product. Everyone knows we are required to be circumspect in our conversations with our constituency. We know our actions must be reasonable and measured. But our speaking and our behavior are outflows of the climate which we create and within which we operate. The way we talk about the calls we work, the people we deal with, the actions we take, and what we think about the outcomes we produce creates the psychological atmosphere that defines our work environment. The way we feel about that and the meanings we attach to those things direct future thinking and behaving.
What kinds of stories do we love to re-tell when we are with colleagues? Which officers are admired, revered, or emulated for their exploits in the field? What attitudes are expressed in our shop talk? If it brings a smile to our face when we hear that the handcuffs were on a click too tight, or that there’s a new dent in the hood of the patrol car, or there was some serious road rash on the last arrestee, that might be an indication that we work in a climate conducive for abuse. If that’s the well we dig among ourselves, why should we expect the water to taste any different when we pump it out on the public? Our attitude about the way we exercise our authority comes from the climate in which we operate.
We need to begin to think strategically and act intentionally to control our work climate and to control the socialization process (the process by which members learn how to think, and feel, and behave like a member of the organization) so that we can organically produce better outcomes while we await the systemic changes that will produce better policies and procedures. This socialization process never stops. It’s most pronounced in younger, newer officers but it never really stops. We need to tell our stories and laugh at our jokes and be real people around ourselves because that’s how we learn and build relationships with the people we may have to depend upon for our very lives. But we need to recognize what’s appropriate and what’s not and take control of that behavior so that the climates we perpetuate are climates for success and not climates for disaster.
Part of the take-away from the DOJ reports is what those reports reveal about the culture and work climates of places like Ferguson, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. No doubt, they are indicative of other places around the country. It’s not every department or to the same degree but the elements are there and the lessons can be applied to us all. While we wait for the stakeholders and change agents to develop the cultural changes our communities are calling for, we as front line officers and supervisors can decide to take control of our climates and start creating climates that encourage, exemplify, and produce appropriate police behavior.
Adapted from: OFFICER UP! Creating a Climate for Appropriate Police Behavior
About the author:
Sergeant Tim Tremaine is a patrol supervisor with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office in Fort Worth, Texas and is a retired patrol officer from the Arlington (Texas) Police Department. Tremaine’s first book OFFICER UP! Creating a Climate for Appropriate Police Behavior was released in October 2016 and available on Amazon.com. For more information see www.officerup.us