HARTFORD, Conn. – Despite policies on the books for years that require officers across the United States to stop colleagues from using excessive force, there has been little or no effort to teach officers how to intervene, law enforcement officials and experts say.
That's now changing following the killing of George Floyd, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held a knee to Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes while three colleagues watched. Police departments nationwide are showing new interest in training officers how they should stop, or try to stop, abuse in their own ranks.
“I don’t think departments have prepared their officers sufficiently to deal with that sort of situation,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank. “Have we really thought through what that actually means, what’s actually expected of them? ‘Duty to intervene’ has to mean more than words. It has to mean actions.”
Officials in New Orleans, which has what many consider to be the nation’s model police peer intervention program, say that since Floyd's death in May, they have received more than 100 inquiries from police departments seeking information about their specialized training
Baltimore's police department, led by former New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, is putting i9n place similar peer intervention training, as are the Philadelphia police and several other departments.
Minneapolis adopted a policy in 2016 requiring officers to intervene when colleagues are using inappropriate force. Yet three other officers at the scene failed to stop 19-year police veteran Derek Chauvin when he put his knee on Floyd's neck despite Floyd's cries that he could not breathe .
Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. The three other officers — two of whom say they voiced concerns to Chauvin — are charged with aiding and abetting.
In New Orleans, all officers have to take the peer intervention training, called Ethical Policing Is Courageous, or EPIC. They are put through a variety of scenarios in which they are taught different ways to verbally intervene, then physically intervene if needed, and how to respond when they themselves are the target of the intervention.