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 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.
9 Ibid.
11 EPIC Instructors Manual, copywrite 2016 New Orleans Police Department.

21st Century Policing: Peer Intervention Interoperability   (published on

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  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 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.


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  For more information see