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How training can empower officers to intervene

Taking a cue from pilot training, the EPIC program teaches officers to become active bystanders who speak up when watching a troubling event unfold

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Since 2016, New Orleans Police Department officers have participated in EPIC program training.

Photo/New Orleans Police Department Facebook page

By Jacob Lundy

Imagine you are a new pilot serving as second-in-command on a full flight led by a veteran captain with 32 years of service. The captain has service medals, a white beard, and even a company nickname.

With 150 souls aboard, a dangerous storm is gathering at your destination and incoming traffic is likely to be diverted at any moment causing delays and customer complaints. You are monitoring weather radar and based on what you are seeing, your approach window has closed making a landing too risky to attempt. You inform the captain, who declines to check the radar and says something like, “We’ll be fine, I could make this approach in my sleep.”

What do you do next?

Rookie police officers, such as the ones currently in jail for aiding and abetting the death of George Floyd, face this kind of professional dilemma every day. Like our new pilot above, police officers are faced with similar institutional pressures to get the job done and are rarely empowered to question the actions of senior officers and particularly supervisors.

Pilots, however, can turn to PACE training (Probing, Alerting, Challenging and Emergency Warning) and similar programs to overcome passive bystandership scenarios that have historically led to a number of tragedies in the air. PACE is simply an escalating intervention strategy taught to pilots who often must negotiate rigid chain-of-command and seniority cultures in aviation.

Ethical policing is courageous program

Taking a cue from pilots, since 2016, New Orleans Police Department officers have been empowered by the EPIC program to intervene in poor decision-making by colleagues – even the chief of police if necessary – to prevent everything from courtesy complaints and accidents to in-custody deaths.

What makes such programs so effective is that rather than ignoring the humanness of patently human scenarios, they teach pilots (and now police officers) to address human nature head-on.

Using Minneapolis as a case in point, such training acknowledges the inherent difficulty in challenging the actions of a senior colleague – in this case Derek Chauvin, a 19-year veteran of the department – and teaches both the subordinate officer how to intervene and the veteran officer how to accept the intervention.

We know from pretrial hearings in the George Floyd case this past week that at least one of the subordinate officers involved made a modest attempt at intervening before remaining silent as Floyd died – this is very often exactly how such events unfold in the absence of intervention training. From cockpit voice recorders, air disaster investigators learned many years ago that aircraft accidents were often preceded by a subordinate crew member attempting to raise awareness of a dangerous situation before reverting to silence because he or she did not feel empowered to speak up.

Empowering officers to speak up

Passive bystandership is the group think we are all so familiar with when witnessing a troubling event as a part of a crowd and doing nothing for fear of doing the wrong thing. PACE teaches pilots to become active bystanders who speak up when watching a troubling event unfold. EPIC has been teaching law enforcement officers to recognize these same signs of danger in their colleagues, to great success.

Part of the mission of those of us who created EPIC is to now spread the word about such effective training strategies before another video surfaces of officers serving as passive bystanders while a tragedy unfolds within their reach.

I have plenty of experience sitting through, and being forced to teach, police officers the latest training gimmicks over the years. Many of us even on the EPIC development team were skeptical as we gave the program its first couple of trial runs. While we did make a number of necessary changes early on – we were surprised to find widespread support – even enthusiasm in our classes by both rank and file officers and command staff. As with any police training, there were questions, push-back and arguments – but more than anything, there were dozens of stories in every class about past real-world scenarios that could have easily been prevented by EPIC had it only come along sooner. Unfortunately, George Floyd’s death will be one of those stories for future Minneapolis police officers.

NEXT: A look at NOPD’s innovative and career-saving EPIC peer intervention program

About the author

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 or call 504/344-5357.