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fighting crime. A culture of errors and misconduct lead to a loss of morale and diminished job satisfaction. And, of course, the impact on civilians — the police department’s actual customers — in terms of emotional stress, lack of trust, and, in some cases, actual physical harm, can be huge. Indeed, the collective cost of those consequences almost certainly dwarfs the cost of settle- ments and litigation. And none of this even touches on the social cost to the officers themselves. Individuals who witness mistakes and misconduct and do nothing to prevent them put themselves at great risk of emotional and psychological stress. Non-intervening observers of preventable sexual assaults, for example, can carry that burden with them for years. There is every reason to believe “passive bystandership” in the context of police mistakes and/or misconduct takes a similar emotional toll on the non-intervening police officer. and misconduct in law enforcement, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds are the notorious examples caught on film over the past quarter century of police officers failing to take action in the face of another officer’s use of excessive force. The officers standing passively by during the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 probably is the example that comes most readily to mind. While the men and women of the NOPD certainly had the King case in mind when they developed their EPIC program, they also had in mind the more common, albeit less sensational, scenarios in which officers more commonly find themselves. While a police officer may go through his or her entire career without witnessing an excessive use of force, very few officers will make it very far without witnessing some preventable nega- tive behavior by another officer, be it a mistake or misconduct. Maybe it’s a partner ready to “teach a suspect a lesson” following a foot pursuit. Or a colleague about to lose his/her cool in the face of a verbally abusive arrestee. Maybe a supervisor seems inclined to leave certain details out of a police report. Or maybe a colleague is intent on driving him/herself home after one too many post-shift drinks. These are just some of the scenarios real police officers face in the real world. And, as most of us know from experience, each of these scenarios has the potential of go- ing from bad to worse with an ill-thought-out intervention. For some, intervening in another’s conduct comes easy. But the truth is most of us do not fall within that category. For most of us, intervening in another’s conduct, at least in some cases , can be difficult, frightening, or even dangerous. Some of us go so far as to turn the other way or even walk out of the room to avoid having to intervene at all. As a result, we (all of us — includ- ing police officers) come up with all manner of excuses, either consciously or subconsciously, for not taking on the role of an ac- tive bystander. Experts call these excuses “inhibitors.” And they include these all-too-familiar mental rationales: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PEER INTERVENTION Unfortunately, when we talk about preventing mistakes
tactics to intervene safely and effectively in another officer’s conduct, regardless of rank, if necessary to prevent a regrettable action. It helps officers: / Identify the warning signs of conduct for which an intervention may be necessary, / Understand the power a thoughtful intervention can play in preventing mistakes or misconduct, / Gain the confidence to intervene when necessary, / Gain the skills to intervene when necessary, / Take responsibility for acting, and / Actually take meaningful and safe action. The interpersonal tools EPIC provides in furtherance of these goals are based on years of academic research into what is called “active bystandership” and “passive bystandership,” and can be used by officers to help prevent misconduct, prevent a mistake, or even lead a colleague in need of health or wellness services to seek help. EPIC also fosters an environment where such an intervention not only is welcome, but is expected. The EPIC program grew out of a realization by the NOPD that pushing officers to report problems after they occur, while an essential and noble goal, often is difficult to achieve in prac- tice with any sort of consistency. Experience tells us that training programs that focus only on reporting and discipline often put officers in an untenable position (or at least the perceived posi- tion) of having to either (a) do the right thing and, perhaps, be labeled a rat, or (b) stay silent and put one’s career (if not free- dom) at risk. By focusing on prevention rather than reporting and discipline, EPIC seeks to keep officers from ending up between that rock and hard place. In many ways, of course, EPIC is not new. Good police of- ficers have been willing to speak up and keep bad things from happening for decades. And certainly, officers intervene every day to protect civilians from harm, often putting their lives on the line to do so. But an officer intervening effectively and early enough to prevent another officer’s conduct (or misconduct) is less common than one might think. Indeed, if it were otherwise, we wouldn’t see 1,100 police officers arrested each year, signifi- cantly more citizen complaints and disciplinary actions, and countless officers putting themselves, their colleagues, or the community at risk through preventable mistakes. THE COST OF NOT INTERVENING The cost of “passive bystandership” in policing is immense. Obviously, on one level, mistakes and misconduct cost law enforcement agencies and their cities untold millions of dol- lars in investigations, litigations, and settlements. Long Beach, California, for example, a city of only 470,000 people (at the time of a 2013 analysis), was paying more than $3 million annually in damages to resolve police mistakes and misconduct. New York City, at the other end of the population spectrum, has paid out about $384 million to resolve such cases in the last five years alone. Certainly these costs cannot all be laid at the feet of by- standers, but unquestionably some material component of these costs could have been avoided by more effective “active bystand- ership” among police officers themselves. The cost of misconduct and preventable mistakes goes well beyond the cost of litigation and settlements. A police depart- ment with a poor reputation of integrity and/or competence will have problems recruiting, retaining good officers, and even
/ I’m not sure what is happening. / It’s not my responsibility. / Someone else will do it. / Someone else will do it better than I. / I don’t know all the facts. / What if I get it wrong?
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