EPIC training is about officers helping officers
We cannot create “police-robots.” We are here to train humans to better navigate a challenging job
In January 2016, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) launched a peer intervention program called “Ethical Policing Is Courageous,” or EPIC. The program teaches officers that an important part of their job is to intervene if they see a fellow officer engaging in misconduct – or ideally, to step in and help before any misconduct occurs. NOPD officials emphasize that EPIC is about protecting the careers of police officers, as well as preventing misconduct. In this article, EPIC trainer Jacob Lundy details key components of the program. A companion article outlines how the EPIC Program came into existence.
By Jacob Lundy
Reprinted with permission from “Subject to Debate,” Vol. 30, No. 2, a newsletter of the Police Executive Research Forum.
When I was first approached to run the EPIC program, which was in its infancy at the time, I was aware the task would involve input on content and logistics. I learned very quickly, however, that the primary duty of the position would entail something far more fundamental and important to its success.
Our early participants, including Dr. Joel Dvoskin, Dr. Ervin Staub and Michael Quinn of the International Ethics and Leadership Training Bureau, understood that to be successful, we could not impose the EPIC program on officers.
My primary responsibility would be designing a program and strategy that results in officers wanting to attend the training and embrace the concept. This was quite a task, given the natural reluctance in law enforcement to take direction from bystanders.
But with one-third of the New Orleans Police Department now trained and the feedback overwhelmingly positive, I am often asked to name the single most important aspect of EPIC training in gaining this success so far. The answer is that EPIC is based on the idea that police officers are human beings who must respond to immensely stressful scenarios, day in and day out, and they have human reactions to stressful events. We cannot create “police-robots.” We are here to train humans to better navigate a challenging job.
As we conduct the training, we don’t just “tell,” we ask the class questions about their experiences. When we talk about “danger signs” that stress may be affecting an officer, we solicit examples from the class. Everyone has seen warning signs in coworkers over the years. Each of us has either helped a coworker in similar circumstances or wished we had helped a coworker.
Effective interventions are broken down into two types:
- Is the situation an “emergency” that must be handled immediately?
- Or is it a situation where you can take your time?
We teach students that if a fellow officer is using excessive force or doing something illegal, they cannot be subtle about intervening, as immediate action is required. But if the situation revolves around a personal problem or minor courtesy/professionalism issue, we teach officers to take some time and think about the best approach.
In non-critical situations, it may be best to speak to a coworker privately. There may be another officer who is close to the person and in a better position to approach him or her. We also discuss approaching people with courtesy and respect and explaining that they are receiving an intervention. We instruct classes to emphasize that they are intervening to help the person involved.
We also teach about the requirement to accept an appropriate intervention. We discuss in class that a person who is seemingly resistant to an intervention may go home and continue thinking about what was said. It may eventually sink in. We encourage officers to follow up in some way.
Additionally, and importantly, we teach about “escalation.” An intervention is a tool to help a coworker, but if a coworker dismisses your offer of help, you may have to escalate the intervention to a higher rank or another officer to make sure you’ve done enough.
There are a different set of issues with “emergency interventions,” sometimes called critical interventions. In emergencies, you need to stop improper behavior immediately or step in to prevent improper behavior if you sense a fellow officer is under stress and might be on the verge of doing something wrong, such as using excessive force.
We teach officers to assess the urgency and react in the way they need to react. This can include telling someone flat out that you are taking over. We also teach that you may need to tell a coworker that you are taking them to the station and they are not going back on the street until they calm down.
Such an intervention may need to be physical. In the case of excessive force, we have to teach officers that it is their job to restrain someone.
If Possible, Be Discreet
Depending on the situation, you might be able to be discreet about an intervention and allow the officer to back down without losing face. For example, you might just say, “I’ll handle this” in a routine manner, as if you are doing the officer a favor, rather than questioning his judgment or temperament.
In New Orleans, we have a signal “10-12,” which officially means “be discreet,” as in, “Don’t use plain language in front of a violent felon who is about to be arrested.”
Over the years, we adopted this code as an intervention signal that, depending on tone, can mean anything from “calm down” to “stop right now!” EPIC specifically teaches 10-12 because it is discreet; it does not notify the public that an intervention is happening. More importantly, signal codes are better than plain language at breaking the “tunnel vision” and “auditory exclusion” that can prevent an officer under extreme stress from comprehending what you are saying.
Inhibitors to Intervening
We also discuss “inhibitors” to interventions – factors that make it difficult to intervene. Officers may witness something happening that they know is not right, but not do anything to stop it, because they mistakenly believe their job is to always support their fellow officers, right or wrong. Or they may be reluctant, or think it’s not their job, to correct a higher-ranking officer.
In our training, we address these issues by first asking the class to tell us what they think are the most common inhibitors to intervening. Then we show a slide with several inhibitors that are often mentioned. Then we discuss counter-measures.
One important counter-measure is a top-down commitment from the chief of the agency to the concept of intervening and the reasons for intervening. The EPIC training itself is an important countermeasure because it’s a strong signal that this is an issue the department takes seriously. We also mix all ranks in each class, so that everyone experiences the training together and realizes that everyone is receiving the same training. Police agencies can reduce inhibitors by adopting policies against retaliation, transfers, or other actions against officers who do an intervention.
Finally, I want to mention, just as I do in class, that EPIC’s main advantage is teaching officers to look out for signs they can act on before they find themselves forced to intervene in a serious situation.
I want to credit NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau for embracing this concept and helping to create one of this country’s most progressive disciplinary policies, which provides every incentive for officers to intervene in each other’s lives and behavior.
NEXT: A look at NOPD's innovative and career-saving EPIC peer intervention program
Jacob Lundy, formerly of the New Orleans Police Department, has experience in homicide investigation, consent decree compliance and education/training. He now devotes his time to criminal justice writing and consulting through his firm MIRC (Major Incident Response Consulting) based in New York City, along with practice partner Michael Wynn, a Manhattan-based attorney. MIRC specializes in front-end liability assessment, policy development and review, as well as media relations for small to mid-sized law enforcement agencies negotiating the rapidly changing environment of use-of-force investigation and accountability. For more information on MIRC, email email@example.com or call 504/344-5357.