History of Peer Intervention In New Orleans

A History of Peer Intervention Training

By Michael W Quinn – CEO

International Ethics and Leadership Training Bureau, LLC.

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 just 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. His thoughts on active bystandership speak to why the decoy and repeat offender programs were so successful. 

After my retirement from  the Minneapolis PD 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. After the book came out in 2005 I was invited to speak at conferences in Canada and the U.S., to the RCMP Academy conference of internal affairs investigators, to citizen groups like Communities United Against Police Brutality, to police chiefs at Northwestern University, to students at Colleges and Universities, and to police agencies regarding the idea of holding each other accountable and not letting 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.

In the fall of 2011 I began a friendship with Mary Howell, a prominent civil rights attorney in New Orleans. She was speaking at a NACOLE Conference regarding bystander intervention by police officers and 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. Specifically, she 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 in New Orleans.

I was invited to speak to Silence is Violence in New Orleans in January of 2012 and 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. Over the next couple years, the membership grew to include Dr. Joel Dvoskin, Dr. Erin Nelson, Dr. Everett Doolittle, Ted Quant, Barbara Attard, Steve Parker, and Dr. Ervin Staub.

Knowing that the consent decree for the New Orleans Police Department was being written at that time, Mary contacted Christy Lopez at the 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 sections 266, 294 and 315.

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

Once we knew that peer intervention was in the consent decree there were many meetings and conference calls with the working group. Eventually, 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 and I had the first draft of the training done by December, 2012. The curriculum received Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training approval in January, 2013 and I taught the first class in Fergus Falls, MN on March 13, 2013. It went really well and was recorded by iDream.tv. The edited promo for the class was produced by iDream.tv and put on Vimeo by April of 2013. https://vimeo.com/66913335  You can also see it on my website at http://www.ieltb.com. I received National Certification for the program from IADLST, the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training in October of 2016.

From October of 2012 to spring of 2015 there were a series of trips to New Orleans meeting with the working group, and many phone and email conversations about “Peer Intervention” training.

In May of 2015, I presented the Peer Intervention program for Judge Morgan and the NOPD command staff at the New Orleans District Courthouse. More meetings followed and in October of 2016 I was offered the contract to teach the first train-the-trainer class in peer intervention to the New Orleans police department for what was now called “EPIC – Ethical Policing is Courageous” ©, the core and framework of which is my original peer intervention class.

When Ben Horwitz from the compliance team first told me the timeline for command staff training, focus groups, surveys, contract signing, etc., I quickly realized that to meet the contract requirements I needed to start right away and couldn’t wait for the signed contract. I told Ben that I would come down in November and get started based on his promise that a contract would be coming. He didn’t like the idea but eventually agreed. Officer Jacob “Jake” Lundy was assigned as my liaison for the project. He had recently been involved in a shooting and was temporarily off the street. It was a perfect fit for me and for him. He was great to work with and made all the difference in coordinating the different activities and training that needed to be done.

I delivered the first EPIC training on March 30 and 31, 2016, almost 5 years after my first conversation with Mary Howell. The reviews were great. Some officers even wanted more training.

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. In a letter to me he says "We believe this 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. Your hard work in producing our training curriculum has been commendable. ” 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.

In September, 2016 the Irondale, Alabama Police Department, under the command of Chief Atkinson, joined the ranks of Police Peer Intervention. Congratulations to Irondale. 

Recent Articles on Peer Intervention are listed below.