Improving Policing Through Peer Intervention

“In three years we sent a lot of vicious predators and career criminals to prison without a single complaint of any kind from citizens, offenders, or civil rights groups.

We did it by depending on each other to stop any act that might lead to a complaint or dishonor the badge. We gave permission to intervene and to accept an intervention if we saw something that might be a problem. To me, it was intuitive to good police work” – Sgt. Mike Quinn

Peer Intervention: The Way Forward?

Would you give your co-workers permission to intervene if they ever see you doing something wrong? That’s the essence of retired Police Sgt. Mike Quinn.

I had the pleasure of working with Mike’s dad, Bill, when we both were Minneapolis police officers. I asked Mike to write a piece for this blog about his work in New Orleans and crafting this approach to police ethics.

Cops Helping Cops: A History of Peer Intervention Training 

By Sgt. Michael W. Quinn

With all the recent press being given to Peer Intervention training I thought law enforcement might be interested in how it got started in New Orleans.

I need to take you back a few years to get a sense of the history behind it. In 1987 I was given the opportunity to head up what would be a 3- year experience designing and supervising the Robbery Decoy Unit and later the Repeat Offender Program, (ROPE) in the Minneapolis Police Department.

Chief Tony Bouza and Lieutenant Bob Lutz had enough faith in me to turn me loose with a hand-picked group of officers to do decoy work and following that to work with an old friend, Greg Hestness, to co-supervisor ROPE.

In three years we sent a lot of vicious predators and career criminals to prison without a single complaint of any kind from citizens, offenders, or civil rights groups.

We did it by depending on each other to stop any act that might lead to a complaint or dishonor the badge. We gave permission to intervene and to accept an intervention if we saw something that might be a problem. To me, it was intuitive to good police work.

In 1989 Dr. Ervin Staub published The Roots of Evil where he documents and analyzes the effects of active and passive bystandership. It is a wonderful work with ideas that can be applied across many areas of human interactions, including peer intervention, bullying and the underlining causes of human tragedy.

After my retirement in 1999 it was my work in the decoy and ROPE units and the many witnessed failures of police leadership that led me to write Walking With the Devil: The Police Code of Silence in 2005.

After the book came out I was invited to speak at conferences in Canada and the U.S., the Canadian RCMP Academy conference of internal affairs investigators, citizen groups like Communities United Against Police Brutality, police chiefs at Northwestern University, students at Colleges and Universities, and police agencies. The topic was for police officers to hold each other accountable and not let another officer do something that could cost them their career or their freedom. I didn’t call it peer intervention. I called it officer survival ethics.

Around 2010 someone told me to read Staub. His description of active bystandership and the positive influence it could have on a culture was a validation of my history with the decoy unit and ROPE.

In the fall of 2011 I began a friendship with Mary Howell, a prominent civil rights attorney in New Orleans (NOLA). She was speaking at a conference of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) regarding bystander intervention by police officers. Being familiar with Dr. Ervin Staub’s work on active and passive bystandership, she wanted to talk to me about some of the ideas in my book.

She specifically wanted to know why and how I had been so successful with the decoy and ROPE units.

So began the long journey to the peer intervention training that took place in March of 2016 within the NOPD.

I was invited to speak to “Silence is Violence” in New Orleans in January of 2012 and to meet with Baty Landis and her group. They told me there was no faith in the police department at that point in time. The police were frustrated and the community was angry.

But Mary Howell refused to give up. She wanted a better police department and a happier community. She brought together what became known as the “Working Group” for bystander intervention…

Knowing that the federal consent decree for the NOPD was being written, Mary contacted Christy Lopez at the U.S. Department of Justice and told her that our group wanted to put together a curriculum on active bystandership that would be written into the decree, and through her efforts it was.

In October of 2012, the working group presented our ideas on active bystandership at a NACOLE conference in San Diego. We were inundated with requests for more information. When will this be ready? Can we start doing it now?

After several meetings and conference calls with the working group I was elected to write the curriculum for the peer intervention training. This was a case where everyone in the group had ingredients they wanted included in the final course but I was the designated cook.

I had already been working on the course development for several months… I taught the first class in Fergus Falls, MN on March 13, 2013. It went really well and was recorded by iDream.tv. [Check out my website at http://www.ieltb.com.]…

In May of 2015, I presented the Peer Intervention program to Judge Morgan and the NOPD command staff at the New Orleans District Courthouse… In 2016 I was offered the contract to teach the first train-the-trainer class in peer intervention to the NOPD, “EPIC – Ethical Policing is Courageous” (the core and framework of my original peer intervention class)…

I delivered the first EPIC training in March, 2016, almost five years after my first conversation with Mary Howell. The reviews were great. Some officers even wanted more.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have been part of this process. I learned a lot. I feel like I have a whole new police family in New Orleans and I know the future of the NOPD is bright. There are many good cops in NOLA that are proud of their uniform and I would like to think I helped in some way to make that happen.

MOST IMPORTANT: The driving force behind all of this has been Mary Howell. If anyone deserves credit for making this all happen it is her. Recent reviews in major publications are lauding the great promise of peer intervention and the difference it can make. Her name is never mentioned, but what made all this possible was Mary Howell’s dogged persistence to make the NOPD better for the cops and the community. I don’t believe it would have happened without her.

Finally, Peer Intervention, Active Bystandership, EPIC – whatever you want to call it – relies on the chief law enforcement officer to talk it, walk it and support it for everyone under their command.
Superintendent Michael Harrison is making that happen in New Orleans. He says EPIC is “the transformational tool that will catalyze our many ongoing reformation efforts and help make this agency one of the premier law enforcement organizations in the United States.”

Before his retirement, Deputy Superintendent Bob Bardy told me and others that EPIC should be called “Ethical Policing is Contagious.” He believed it was. He said that New Orleans officers needed to use EPIC to change the culture of the police department, to make it theirs, and make it a culture the New Orleans community and the NOPD can be proud of. He believed and so do I.

The following has more information on the New Orleans program: