Officer Survival and Peer Intervention
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. It is the positive form of peer pressure.
It can be summed up in the following oath:
I promise that I will always have the courage to stand by you and for you.
I promise that I will never allow, through action or inaction, any act that dishonors you, your family or the badge. I ask only that you promise to do the same for me.
Peer Intervention, otherwise known as Active Bystandership, is not a new concept. It is an operational tactic that has been around, under different names and in different work environments for some time.
Peer Intervention charges every person within an organization to maintain situational awareness and a safe environment by sharing the responsibility of intervening, and accepting an intervention, in instances where people’s safety is threatened. (Hughes, 2008)
Large manufacturing organizations like Chevron use a term like “stop order” to stop a manufacturing process if a safety violation is noticed by anyone in the company, from the CEO to the janitor. (Chevron’s Stop Work Authority, 2016) Other industries, like the airline and the medical fields are known to use the mnemonic P.A.C.E. – Probe, Alert, Challenge, Emergency. When someone identifies a potential problem they start with a probing question or comment. If that doesn’t get an appropriate response they alert the person to the problem. If that fails to alter the situation they challenge the actions being taken. Finally, if the problem is not being resolved, they declare an emergency and act to eliminate the threat.
In law enforcement, when we are in a physically hazardous situ- ation, we depend on other cops to protect us and to help us make any necessary course corrections. We are wired to immediately respond when an officer needs help, even when it puts our own life at grave risk. It is in our DNA, whether on or off duty—active or retired. In Peer Intervention for Law Enforcement we learn to inter- vene or allow an intervention when our actions, or those of another officer, threaten the survival of our career, our family or our freedom.
Distilled to its essence, Peer Intervention within law enforce- ment is a promise to correct and/or accept a correction before the conduct becomes misconduct. In officer survival terms this means action beats reaction. I can act to stop the misconduct so I don’t have to react after the fact to the bad consequences. This can be especially challenging for cops because the context in which we operate is often “tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.” (Graham v. Connor, 1989)
If Peer Intervention is necessary to our survival, why is it so hard to implement? Dr. Ervin Staub, noted psychologist, author and Holocaust survivor has researched and studied the effects of active and passive bystandership. He notes that there is an enormous capacity in all of us for good and for evil. The question is not whether these tendencies exist or not, but to what extent we can shape and direct them.
Bystanders, people who witness but are not directly affected by the actions of perpetrators, can significantly help shape society by their reactions to what they witness. (Staub, 1989)) This includes officers who are active observers and elect to intervene when necessary, officers who are passive in the face of misconduct and fail to intervene, and the citizen witness who chooses to be a passive or active bystander.
Passive Bystander officers define the meaning of events when, by their passivity, they affirm the perpetrators. It is our failure to intervene that gives impetus to groups like Black Lives Matter and Communities United Against Police Brutality. Society’s angry reaction to the officers who passively stand by while other officers abuse a person is on display every day in a host of social media websites. As Active Bystander officers we can also define the meaning of events when we promote the values and norms of caring, compassion and procedural justice.
To understand the value of peer intervention we start with the question: Why would an otherwise good and moral cop choose to be a passive bystander and fail to intervene in the face of unethical or illegal conduct by another cop?
Like most humans, a cop’s beliefs and behaviors are a result of our exposure to and engagement in lifelong cultural, personal and professional experiences. We are what we know and how we’ve grown up around the people and experiences we’ve had in our lives.
Supporting this is research by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram around obedience and authority that revealed that people who challenged authority were in the minority and that obedience was so entrenched that it may void personal and more ethical codes of conduct. (Milgram, 1974)
Historian Christopher Browning applied Milgram’s studies to analyze the actions of a reserve police battalion of “ordinary men” stationed in Poland during WWII that became one of the most efficient mass murdering groups during the war. Browning’s findings confirmed the enormous pressure of peer conformity and the ability of peer pressure to set moral norms.
Many of the reserve police officers who participated in horrendous atrocities explained their behavior as not wanting to abandon their fellow officers or to be seen as shirkers or leaving the “dirty work” to their peers. This despite the fact that in the first assigned “action” of this group, officers were informed that they had the option to refuse to participate. Only a very small number did so.
Browning also comments on the larger context of anti-Semitism and the psychological distancing created by the officers between themselves and their victims to reduce the officers’ feelings of dis- tress and guilt (i.e., the victims in some way “deserved it”). (Brown- ing, 1992,1998)
I have already discussed the code of silence and why we are so reluctant to be the outlier, the one person who stands up against the peer pressure to conform. So it comes down to this: If we know that Peer Intervention can save lives and careers, when do we start?
One of the toughest questions we face in law enforcement is: When do we intervene? When we are dealing with uncooperative, mentally ill, angry or drunk citizens who ignore or refuse to com- ply with lawful police orders we may justifiably use coercive force in order to gain control. The result of this use of force is that some citizens feel they are being treated unjustly, especially if the citizen and/or witnesses observe other cops not intervening in what they interpret as excessive force. I could argue, based on experience, that it is the lack of respect for police and a failure to comply with appropriate lawful police orders that requires us to use force, and sometimes extreme force. In any given scenario there may be truth in either or both side’s contention.
What is true in every scenario is that once a person believes that he or she or the group they identify with, are being treated unjustly, they are much more likely to use force against that group or person. In our world on the street that can translate to our inappropriate use of force based on our perception of who we are dealing with. In the eyes of the citizen it can translate into a loss of police legitimacy and a greater inclination to resist force used by the police or even actively use force, murder, police officers absent a clear precipitating event.
How do we stop this downward spiral in police community relations? Common sense tells us that intervening in another cop’s behavior can lead to disastrous results. When you have escalated from lawful coercive force to assault, any physical resistance or interference from another officer is likely to be interpreted as another attacker.
The tunnel vision and auditory exclusion that can result from the fight or flight adrenaline rush may block out the intervening officer’s uniform and/or any commands the intervening officer may be giving. There is limited research data on auditory exclusion and it is seen by some plaintiff’s attorneys as an excuse to cover up for bad decisions. My experience in life-threatening situations is that you can become so focused on your own actions that you don’t register unnecessary sensory input—including pain, hearing, and peripheral vision. That means training for critical incidents that compromise our physical senses is essential to our physical survival, just as training in Peer Intervention for those career threatening incidents that would compromise our moral behavior is essential to our career survival.
In officer survival training every officer knows what it means when another officer yells “GUN!” The word alone instantly puts us into a survival mode. It reaches our subconscious before it reaches our reasoning brain and we experience the amygdala hijack I wrote about in chapter 5.
In Peer Intervention we can agree on a spoken word or phrase that instantly alerts everyone that there is a problem we need to correct.
For example, in the robbery decoy unit we planned to use code words in the event the decoy somehow became a hostage. It was very simple. If the hostage officer was about to make a physical move to escape or to give the other officers an opportunity to take down the hostage taker, the hostage would say “The Chief isn’t going to like this.” We then had three seconds to get ready for the move. Fortunately, we never had to make that decision. Regular partners typically have code words that they use for similar situations. It’s a good officer safety practice. Applying that same practice to Peer Intervention provides a word or sentence that registers quickly in the mind of the officer to cease and desist – Immediately!
I have seen this tactic being used in YouTube videos of officers that are involved in a physical confrontation and one of the officers will yell something that tells everyone they are being recorded. A command such as “We’re Red!” refers to the red indicator light on a recording device and is an effective and clear alert to the officers involved. Of course, in today’s world you must assume that everything you do is being recorded, and I mean everything.
With good police partners I could always assume peer interven- tion, we just didn’t call it that—not macho enough. In the decoy and repeat offender units we were a group of officers that worked as partners. It’s not like we all loved each other.
These were smart, aggressive, hard-working officers with very strong personalities and within the confines of our office there were occasional highly-animated and profanity-laced discussions on whose case had priority and how to proceed. But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter whose case we worked on, because we all knew that once we started it was done the right way. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this manner of operation eliminated the negative job stress you hear so many officers complain about because there was no BS, no hidden agenda, and no Code of Silence and we practiced Peer Intervention.
So, how do we engage officers in peer intervention to make a meaningful culture change that will help to stop the Code of Silence behavior and improve relations between law enforcement and our citizens, the people we are supposed to Serve and Protect?
First, let’s understand some critical points about human nature. Most police officers are good men and women who desire to do their job the right way. I also know from experience that most of us will find ourselves caught between two very ugly choices at some point in our career where right conduct costs more than we are willing to pay. Even though most of us will never perpetrate serious misconduct, too often we are blinded by our loyalty to the code of silence and we remain passive bystanders, unwilling to report or intervene in the misconduct of fellow officers.
Also, most training designed to change ethical behavior in cops is based on the false assumption that we will recognize an ethical dilemma when it presents itself. Like the racial profiling dilemma, it takes introspection to understand that there is a dilemma and introspection takes time and effort that an officer can’t afford at a scene where circumstances are “tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.”
And finally, there are many inhibitors to peer intervention in law enforcement. The biggest are the fear of retaliation and isola- tion from other officers. The police culture typically does not allow for questioning another officer’s conduct, period. Just the idea that another cop could “interfere in your call” based on their analysis is abhorrent to most of us. That sort of intervention was understand- able during field training when, as a rookie, you could be fired if you didn’t listen and amend your behavior to the training officer’s standards. And I can almost guarantee that one of those standards is you don’t interfere in another officer’s call. And questioning another officer’s actions? Not likely.
And the inhibitor we see most often: “No one else is intervening so it must be OK.” Take, for example, recent events in St. Paul, Minnesota where a “suspicious person—Frank Baker” suffered major damage to his leg, broken ribs and a collapsed lung while being taken into custody, absent probable cause for an arrest, by a K-9 officer with his dog and then kicked multiple times by another officer while 3 other St. Paul officers stood by and watched. You can read the arrest report online.
The non-intervention of the other officers in this case is a perfect example of how Peer Intervention would have allowed any one of the three witness officers to stop the attack on Frank Baker and saved at least one career and what I have to assume will be hun- dreds of thousands of dollars in civil penalties.
When we are trained in Peer Intervention as part of ethical decision making we become the key resource in preventing misconduct by our fellow officers. It is those officer-to-officer interventions that will have the most powerful and positive influence on the police culture.
Human nature aside, there are also policy inhibitors that need to be addressed. If a cop witnesses wrongful behavior and intervenes but the offending officer refuses to correct the behavior the witness is labeled “rat” and we know that doesn’t go over well with the rest of the force. However, if the behavior stops, but only after a policy or legal violation has already occurred, I still have an obligation to report what happened. And how does a successful intervention effect any discipline that might follow? If you want me to participate in Peer Intervention I need to know these things.
Let’s assume we have the best possible policies in place. This is police work and we know that the human condition will throw something at us that isn’t covered in the policy. Such as, what if the intervening officer is wrong? Inexperience or a misinterpretation of events can lead to an intervention that is not only wrong but potentially dangerous. The reality is that after a critical incident it can often be said “You couldn’t make this shit up!” and new officers or officers responding late to an event can be faced with hard choices about intervening.
Good partners intervene and allow interventions every day with- out thinking about it or putting a name to it. We make sure we’ve got our partner’s back. We make sure that we both go home at the end of the shift without the stress of worrying if there is going to be a knock on the door by internal affairs or the department of justice. We put our lives on the line for each other when danger threatens. Peer Intervention is a natural extension of that critical loyalty and it reminds us that we need to protect each other from each other for our own sake and the sake of other officers and their families.
Is Peer Intervention worth it? While peer pressure towards conformity is a powerful force, there is also well-established psychological research which shows that a single deviation can greatly diminish conformity. (Staub, 1989) That confirms what I witnessed time and time again over the years, an intervention by one officer, in one event, can effect a change in the culture.
Policing didn’t get where it is today because a new policy told us “no more drinking on the job” or “no more rolling drunks for loose change,” and yes I do go back that far. It changed because individual officers said “No more.” It was, and has always been, these single deviations that start the changes in our culture.
I know that If you are a street cop it feels like there are bigger threats to our survival than another officer’s misconduct. We know that people are killing cops with increasing frequency just because we wear a badge. The ambush shootings around the country are homegrown terrorist attacks that are testing us in ways we have never experienced. But, as terrible as they are, ambushes are not the biggest threat. Misconduct and a failure to intervene in another officer’s misconduct are still far more likely to lead to the loss of your career, your family or your freedom. The final question is “Why should I do it?” This is an important question, especially if an officer is working in an agency that does not support accountability and the concept of Peer Intervention. The answer is simple—we took an oath, and if we honor that oath we will not sacrifice another officer’s life because we didn’t have the guts to do the right thing.
The Promise of Peer Intervention
We are at a tipping point in law enforcement. Nearly every day we witness another case of police abuse of power on social media sites and cable news. The truly egregious abuses are usually due to an individual officer’s misconduct. However, it is the institutional rac- ism inherent in policies like “Zero-Tolerance,” “Stop and Frisk” and “Shoot First—Ask Questions Later” that create a disenfranchised underclass of people who are no longer eligible for loans or jobs. And the clear majority of the disenfranchised are people of color. In our effort to protect and serve we have taken a wrong turn. We have committed “Freeland’s Error,” a term I use regarding the disastrous British police action failure in Northern Ireland.
First, a little background from Irish history—the Irish have a long and bitter history of violence between the Catholic and Protestant populations that goes back to the 17th century when much of Catholic Northern Ireland was forcefully colonized by mainly protestant English and Scottish settlers in an effort to dilute and convert the Irish Catholic bloodline. Like the indigenous people of North America, when the English and Scottish settlers took control, the Irish Catholics suffered open discrimination into the late 20th century in jobs, the government and social services. As the United States struggled with racism and civil rights in the 1960s, so did Northern Ireland. You can watch a short history of the “Irish Troubles” at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles.
The Catholics were protesting in Londonderry on October 5, 1968, when a riot grew out of what was supposed to be a peaceful civil rights protest. Afterward, hostilities between Catholics and Protestants continued to escalate, each group killing members of the other for no other reason other than their different faiths, much like what we see in the Middle East today. The relatively small police force in Belfast was unable to cope with the escalating violence between the groups. The British grew tired of the problem and on the 14th of August, 1969 British troops were sent in to restore order under the command of Lieutenant-General Ian Free- land. “Operation Banner” was under way.
Based on his history in foreign countries Freeland expected to be home within a couple of months after he put down the “insurgency.” He could not have been more wrong.
At the peak of what became a 38-year operation, the British Army deployed some 21,000 soldiers. 1,441 members of the British armed forces died in Operation Banner, including natural causes and suicide. The British Army killed 305 people during Operation Banner. 156 were civilians. (Sutton, 1994)
Freeland thought they had everything they needed but he made a “. . . simple mistake. They fell into the trap of believing that because they had resources, weapons, soldiers, and experience that dwarfed those of the insurgent elements that they were trying to contain, it did not matter what the people of Northern Ireland thought of them.” (Gladwell, 2013)
This was Freeland’s Error. Freeland did not understand that when “people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters- first and foremost-how they behave.” (Gladwell, 2013)
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the RAND Corporation, a Washington think tank, published a paper titled Rebellion and Authority. (Wolfe, 1970) That report became the Rosetta stone for governments and police departments in dealing with riots and other civil unrest. The major premise of their findings reads: “Fundamental to our analysis is the assumption that the population, as individuals or groups, behaves “rationally”: that it calculates costs and benefits to the extent that they can be related to different courses of action, and makes choices accordingly. . . . Consequently, influencing popular behavior requires neither sympathy nor mysticism, but rather a better under- standing of what costs and benefits the individual or group is concerned with, and how they are calculated.” (Wolfe, 1970)
In other words, Wolfe and Leites were saying that people in power don’t have to care what others think about what they do. People will be rational and make choices based on a cost benefit analysis. If the government makes the costs too high the people will acquiesce. They too were very, very wrong.
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that it’s not based on a cost-benefit analysis but rather on officers modeling good behavior and holding others to that same standard.
The conflict in Northern Ireland lasted 38 years because the government and the policing efforts of the military had lost legitimacy. In America, police agencies are suffering from “Freeland’s Error.” We have been trying to arrest and incarcerate our way out of crime and civil disobedience for over 200 years.
Instead of dealing with the cause of our loss of legitimacy we militarized our police departments in a failed attempt to change and control the bad outcomes of poor policies, much as Freeland did.
Freeland attempted a police action with soldiers, something technically not allowed in the U. S. under the Posse Comitatus Act, with exceptions for the war on drugs. (Posse Comitatus Act, 1878)To get around the Act we have militarized the police. It’s as if we looked at Freeland and said “He should have known that oil (the suppression of people’s rights) and water (the use of coercive force) don’t mix. The real answer is to mix the water (the authority to use coercive force) with oil (the failure to protect people’s rights).”
This toxic mix not only makes people irrational, it makes them committed enemies and it surrenders any claim of legitimacy on the part of law enforcement. Freeland did not understand this and neither do some of our police agencies. That is not to say that law enforcement is out of control. There are literally millions of police/ citizen contacts every day in the United States that end on a positive note, often because of heroic acts.
But not every police/citizen contact will be positive. There are plenty of dangerous criminals in the world that we expect law enforcement will aggressively pursue and control on our behalf. It is a premise of social contract theory that cops will enforce the laws passed by the men and women who represent us so that everyone can enjoy the freedoms of a democratic society. (Kelly, 2016)
The history of the United States is proof enough that to preserve a free democratic society we must rely on our criminal justice system to perform the ugly, brutal and often contentious acts that ordinary citizens have neither the power, ability or stomach to perform.
Keeping that in mind, we train to protect ourselves as well as others. We know that in any given contact things can go sideways in an instant and if we aren’t ready it can be deadly for us and the citizen.
As an example, how do cops prepare to protect a person’s rights and protect themselves at the same time in a traffic stop? There is no way for the police officer to know in advance what is in the mind of the driver. He could be a priest, one of the FBI’s 10 most wanted, or just a stone-cold killer like Brian Fitch Sr., the man that killed Officer Patrick in Mendota Heights, MN. (Eccher, 2015) Until she engages she doesn’t know. What she does know is that the first seconds of this contact are critical. She will be deciding in a matter of a few seconds whether this man is a threat, there is a real emergency or this is just a guy that wasn’t paying attention to the speed limit.
The driver, in those same few seconds is making decisions about the officer. If he has been stopped before for driving while brown, he is on edge already. If he has been mistreated by the police he may have already decided what he is going to do if he is disrespected again. And there is always the chance that he is just pure evil and in that case, she may have to depend on her survival skills and prior training—assuming she is given the chance to do that. In this case, however, he is disarmed mentally by her show of respect and he may even relax physically if he decides to cooperate because he is being shown some respect. She knows, having just finished officer survival refresher training, that there were 62 officers killed feloniously last year in the U.S. The instructor emphasized his point by saying that that is a 1 in 14,516 chance of being killed deliberately by a bad guy. So, the odds of getting killed on the job? Not very high, but there is always the possibility.
Training and a big dose of caution have prevented many officer deaths over the years and it is precisely that training that keeps the officers killed number from being a lot higher. There will be thou- sands of attempts on officer’s lives over any 12-month period; few will die as a result.
In total, there will be around 450 line of duty deaths in any given year including driving accidents, health related disease and suicides. This number brings your chances of dying on the job up to 1 in 2,000. To add to that number, about 1,500 of the 900,000 officers nationwide, will lose their job because of misconduct in a twelve- month period; many will go to prison. Now the odds of losing everything go up to about 1 in 257. If your odds on winning the lot- tery were that high, how many tickets would you buy? My point is this. On any given contact with the public, if something goes awry, we are at risk of losing our life, our job, or our freedom.
There is something else at stake in this citizen contact that is important to police legitimacy, and therefore to officer survival. Those first few moments of contact, when a person decides if they are being treated fairly, are an essential element of police legitimacy. A lack of respect or a sense of being treated unfairly because of skin color, or sexual orientation or gender dismantle the officer’s legiti- macy. If the police officer is no longer seen as legitimate there is no longer the presumption that you must comply with their demands.
This is the dilemma in too many of our communities. If a citizen is subjected to an abusive use of coercive force the citizen must either choose to comply and take a hit to their sense of pride and self-worth or, if they believe the force is excessive to the point where they fear death or great bodily harm, they can resist.
Of course, if they resist it will only escalate the use of force on the part of the officer and make it even more likely that the citizen will suffer death or great bodily harm. For the citizens who no longer see the police as a legitimate source of authority, in a police encounter that starts out with a lack of respect—there will never be a good outcome.
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that we have taken an oath to allow an intervention when our behavior threatens our legitimacy as police officers.
If a law enforcement agency subscribes to the Rand report or Freeland’s theory of control it doesn’t matter what a citizen thinks. We can identify those agencies by the huge monetary settlements in excessive force cases that are misconstrued as just the cost of doing business and the officers involved are not held accountable.
Putting Freeland and the Rand Report aside we also know that officers who abuse their power and the officers who witness the abuse, knowing it’s wrong but do nothing to stop it, will find them- selves in a state of cognitive dissonance, where their real values conflict with what they just did or failed to do. If they are to find consistency, justification and meaning in what just happened they must reinterpret the event as justified because the citizen deserved it or they were just enforcing the law. (Cherry, 2016)The more often they are forced to reconcile the dissonance the easier it becomes to devalue their own code of ethical conduct. (Staub, 1989)
In addition, the “Just-World Hypothesis” allows that in the case of abuse that we would not tolerate under other circumstances, we will devalue the victims of the abuse and assume that the victim must have done something to deserve it, even with all evidence to the contrary. (Cherry, 2015)
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that we can avoid cognitive dissonance and just-world thinking and maintain our ethical values when we rely on others to intervene on our behalf when we are in violation of policy or the constitution and we promise to do the same for them.
But even when we do our best to be respectful and ethical it would be a mistake to think that we will be able to “play nice” with everyone. That’s just not possible. Occasionally law enforcement
is called upon to act in a way that is ugly, brutal, and/or deadly. Citizens unaccustomed to seeing that piece of the law enforcement world are usually shocked and offended, and that’s how it should be. If it were otherwise we would know that democracy was failing and anarchy ruled. Which brings us to this question. What is the role of a police officer in American democracy and what does that have to do with Peer Intervention?
At first glance this seems to be an easy question. The answer is that we are the law enforcement arm of the government. We are the “the thin blue line” that stands between good and evil, the last line of defense; and we take care of each other because we can’t depend on anyone else to protect us. That answer is correct as far as it goes but then we must ask ourselves – defend against what? As cops we impact lives with our legitimate use of coercive power to bring before the courts people who break the law and by enforcing laws that reduce the risk of death or great bodily harm. We do what we can to protect people with proactive measures, but we can’t be there to defend or protect everyone from evil and harm. In most cases, we can only respond to acts already committed and try to prevent further harm from occurring. If we accept that our mandate to protect and serve is limited to what can be done by a very few men and women in response to the chaos created by the human condition, then the question “defend against what?” becomes easier. It is a really a moral question. Nearly every act of enforcement, sacrifice, or prevention by an officer is a moral act in some respect, but we don’t think of it that way because we typically relegate our moral thinking to acts outside of enforcement. After all, we are law enforcement and the law is the law—isn’t it?
By way of an enforcement example—An officer stops a young man driving a beat up older vehicle with license plates that expired months ago. In the car is the driver’s pregnant wife and a small child. When questioned about the expired plates the young man explains that he didn’t have the money to renew the registration after paying the rent but he promises to pay as soon as he can and he only drives the car back and forth to work and doctor appointments for his wife and child. By department policy and the law, you should issue a citation and tow the vehicle. In this case of enforcement, you know that nobody will question your right to issue a citation, and your supervisors may even argue that you have an obligation to issue a citation. But what do you accomplish? What are you defending against, and who are you protecting or serving in this instance? Let’s say you issue a citation and tow the vehicle. If the young family didn’t have enough money to pay for the registration they will certainly not be able to come up with the money to pay a fine and retrieve their vehicle. Is this family and community, better or worse off for your enforcement action?
Here’s another example. Let’s say you have a number of homeless people begging in a particular area and the business community puts pressure on the Chief of Police to do something about it. She, in turn, tells the commander, who tells the lieutenant, who tells the sergeant, who tells you to “clean up the avenue” and start enforcing the panhandling law. So you start by issuing a citation to Charlie Homeless when you witness him begging for money. Charlie, whose social situation and abilities guarantee that he won’t show up for court, has a warrant issued when he fails to appear and now the fine is far beyond an amount that Charlie will ever be able to pay. When you bring him in on the warrant he ends up being sentenced to jail time in lieu of the fine. And once again I ask “Is Charlie or the community better or worse off for your enforcement actions?”
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that we can act in the best interests of each other and the community.
When it comes to the idea of sacrifice, officers will argue that the most important thing is that you go home to your family at the end of the shift, but we all know that is not going to happen for all of us. One of us will die in the line of duty about every 57 hours.
Our identity and sense of self comes out of risking our lives to protect each other and the community and knowing firsthand what it means to see our own death as a possible outcome of a decision we willingly make. It becomes part of our DNA that on or off duty, active or retired, we immediately respond to the officer or citizen who needs help, even when that help puts our own life at grave risk. It is the ultimate moral commitment: to be willing to offer up our own life to protect others.
You can argue that there are statistically more dangerous pro- fessions, but even in those professions the threat of death comes from the work environment, not the deliberate actions of another human being. Only soldiers in a war zone and cops live with the knowledge that some of the very people we risk our lives to pro- tect want to kill us, and will kill us, given the opportunity. To put on that uniform means to accept the struggle between our instinct for survival and the demand for self-sacrifice to protect others.
With the increasing number of savage ambushes of police officers, that takes more courage than ever. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=MLJtUOFtLw0
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that we do not stand alone. We stand by each other and we are committed to each other in ways that most people will never have the privilege of knowing.
In terms of crime prevention, the choices about when and where resources will be allocated is really a moral decision. When those decisions go wrong, as they did in the Zero Tolerance polic- ing that led to 44% of African American Males ages 18–30 being given criminal histories in Hennepin County, MN, we still refuse to think of them as moral choices.
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that we have given permission to each other to consider the constant feedback from everyone at every level regarding behaviors that threaten procedural justice, and therefore, our personal safety.
When we talk about safety, our mandate to “Protect and Serve” is usually thought of in terms of protecting the community and our service to others. But what can we really protect? We can’t protect the community every second of the day. There will always be predators and victims. We can’t protect each other every second of the day. Even when we are together as partners or as a team we are impotent to stop the long-range sniper or the assault from behind that we have no chance to counter. So we are back to our original question. What is the role of police officers in American democracy? The answer? The protection of people’s constitutional rights.
If you think about it for a moment, it is the only thing we can always protect. It is our only real mandate. It means that we protect and defend those constitutional rights for everyone under our protection, including other officers.
That is the Promise of Peer Intervention. Through peer intervention we are committed to the ultimate state of officer survival by protecting each other from acts that can lead to the loss of a career, jail time, or suicide; by understanding that we truly are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
So how do we convince officers to embrace Peer Intervention when we know there are so many inhibitors to practicing Peer Intervention? The answer is that we address the six major sources of influence. (Grenny, Patterson, & al, 2013)
We start with Source #1—Personal Motivation. What are we risking with unethical conduct? To talk about the risks in terms of numbers makes some sense. We use numbers every day to make officer survival decisions such as the protection level of your body armor, the grains of weight of the bullets you use, the caliber of your weapon, etc. The number of suicides each year, the number of officers going to prison, and the number of officers being fired are motivational to some cops. But if you’re not suicidal, you haven’t identified any of your behaviors as unethical or maybe you just don’t believe you’re going to get caught—the numbers mean noth- ing. You think they don’t apply to you.
We tend to not be very introspective. Most days we go to work and no one gets killed, we get away with the little stuff like minor policy violations, we don’t face any major ethical dilemma and we go home assured that there will be more work to do the next day. We lose sight of what’s most important in our lives because we take it for granted that we will never lose our wives, children or friends—but many of us will and with a little introspection we can gain new insights into our behaviors and their outcomes for our family and fellow officer’s families.
The Promise of Peer Intervention reminds us that we promised to protect every officer, their spouses and their children. It isn’t just about us. See Ethical Policing is Courageous at http://www.ieltb.com/takeaction
Source #2—The Personal Ability to Intervene in cases involving force needs little training. We are taught physical interventions and control techniques as part of our job. How to intervene when another officer is lying in an arrest report, affidavit, search warrant, or other police report is a little tougher. The intervention tactics for these scenarios do not lend themselves to role play train- ing. But, through the sharing of major ethical dilemmas and how we dealt with them they become real for us. We can see ourselves in the scenarios and they hold great credibility with officers of all ranks because they provide the detail and context that make the stories real. Just by listening we gain insights about what’s possible. Given the opportunity to think and talk about what we did then and would have done now, what our department expected, and what our fellow officers supported provides us with deep vicarious experiences that can lead to change in our own lives.
The Promise of Peer Intervention comes alive through the powerful vicarious learning that occurs through shared experiences.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks to personal ability is the code of silence culture. We know it is nearly impossible to violate the code without the consent and support of other officers. So how do we get that consent? We redefine the code of silence. We turn it upside down and promise to support each other by not allowing conduct that compromises our values or requires the code of silence.
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that we have already given our consent to intervene and allow an intervention. There is no need for the code of silence.
Your ethics will come under attack from policies, bad supervi- sion, unethical bosses or partners, and the temptations that come with the job. Our ability to survive a physical attack depends on our training and fitness level. So how do we survive an ethical attack? The same way. We depend upon our ethical training and fitness level. You can check your ethical fitness right now by ask- ing yourself “What are my non-negotiable values?” These are the values you will not compromise under any circumstance. Try it. It’s not easy. The next part of the exercise involves taking each of those values and asking yourself, “Who else at my workplace knows what these mean to me?” My experience with conducting this exercise, which I borrowed from John Bermel, is that we all have at least 5 non-negotiable values but they are often in conflict with what we think are our “on the job values.” Too often we separate what we truly believe from what we think we need to believe to do this job. The truth is we don’t need to keep separate values.
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that we can be true to our non-negotiable values on and off the job. We can take a public oath to always have the courage to hold ourselves and others accountable for our actions without recriminations or retaliation against the officers who intervene.
Always is a strong word. In officer survival training we are taught that in certain situations we should always do . . . , but in the real world “always” means “whenever we can.” There really are no absolutes in police work or ethics. When we start thinking there are some absolutes and we rule out thinking of other possibilities we are limiting our options, and it is those options that can save us. So we take the Peer Intervention oath and then we violate it? What is our recovery option—our plan B? We will make mistakes and anyone who has been in law enforcement for any length of time has events that they would go back and change given the opportunity. And there will be times when the price you are asked to pay to be ethical is more than you are willing or able to pay. That’s human nature.
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that it gives officers the opportunity to say “I won’t let that happen again, to you or to me. I accept responsibility for what happened. I will always have your back but I also know there will be times when I may not be able to pay the price demanded of an ethical person.”
Source #3—Social Motivation to Intervene hits us directly when we watch the video and news reports of police brutality play out repeatedly on the social media sites. We complain that the video is not the whole story and the newsies are sensationalizing the real story. But in fact, in some cases it is the whole story and it could have been prevented by other officers.
On a personal level, imagine a video of yourself appearing on a social media website; a website accessible by your children and their friends. Would you be proud of the video? Could you explain to your children what happened and why? How much more moti- vation do you need to act ethically?
There was a time when a newspaper story of police abuse or corruption could be disputed as inaccurate or an outright lie. With body cameras on cops and every smartphone capable of excellent video recording that time is no more. Now think of the power of
a video that shows you successfully intervening before conduct becomes a problem.
Lastly, what do you say to the family of an officer you let down when you could have saved their career. I didn’t have the guts to do the right thing by your husband, father, brother or sister?
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that we will not let our broth- ers and sisters become vilified by social media because we have taken an oath that says “I promise that I will not allow, through action or inaction, any act that dishonors you, your family or the badge.”
Source #4—The Social Ability to Intervene means that intervening in another officer’s misconduct needs to be an accepted practice and be supported by everyone from the chief on down or the ability is lost. This means policy changes. It means explaining to the public what we expect of our officers and what they expect of each other. It means changes in disciplinary outcomes. For instance, what happens when an intervention prevents serious misconduct but the intervention occurs after some misconduct has already occurred? What happens in a use of force intervention that prevents misconduct when the agency requires a written report on all uses of force? Are you required to report all interventions? Do they become part of your permanent record? These are just some of the serious questions that need to be addressed before an agency can fully embrace peer intervention. Without a plan and reasonable answers officers will not have the social ability to intervene.
The Promise of Peer Intervention is that it can be a part of all police training and discipline policies.
Here is a look at the first major city to embrace peer intervention—New Orleans, LA. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/29/ us/a-new-orleans-program-teaches-officers-to-police-each-other. html?_r=0 and http://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/news/ crime_police/article_8a383d08-8fe4-11e6-848a-0bb3906d4bca.html
Source #5—Structural Motivation is about the built-in incentives to continue ethical behavior. This is all about accountability. The costs of breaking the law are clear, loss of your job, possible criminal conviction or incarceration, and loss of your family/ divorce. Law enforcement is somewhat unique in that a failure to intervene by an officer can lead to the same disastrous results as being the perpetrator. Also, we can be tried in both state court and federal court for the same crime. There is no double jeopardy “out” when civil rights violations are being charged.
The Promise of Peer Intervention reminds us that the law requires all cops to intervene in the police abuse of authority.
Source # 6—Structural Ability—the last source of influence must come from the agency. It is a critical piece to making peer intervention successful. Like the “Broken Windows” (Kelling, 1982) theory of crime and response to the little things, this structural abil- ity provides the framework that supports the conduct we want to see from officers on the street. This is the equipment, procedures, and departmental support that contributes to success. GPS in cars and portable radios, video cameras in squad cars and on officers’ uniforms, and video cameras in strategic locations within the department are just some of the technology an agency can use to support right conduct.
The Promise of Peer Intervention will be true when the department supports peer intervention with technology and policies.
In sum, the Promise of Peer Intervention is based on the knowledge that most police officers desire to do good and live rewarding and satisfying lives. Most importantly the promise is based on the knowledge that there is a positive option to being complicit in, or carrying the guilty knowledge of, serious misconduct and failing to do anything about it.