Keeping Each Other Safe

AuthorJonathan Aronie,Christy E. Lopez
Published date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Keeping Each Other
Safe: An Assessment of
The Use of Peer
Intervention Programs
to Prevent Police Officer
Mistakes and Misconduct,
Using New Orleans’
EPIC Program As A
Potential National Model
Jonathan Aronie
Christy E. Lopez
This article examines the principles of ‘‘active bystandership’’ and ‘‘peer inter vention’’
and considers their application in the context of policing to prevent or mitigate police
officer mistakes or misconduct. We begin by exploring the science behind bystander-
ship and the application of the concept to solve a number of national problems in
nonpolicing contexts. We then explore the unique dynamics of policing and argue
these dynamics make active bystandership training, as part of an overarching imple-
mentation of an active bystandership ethos, critical to overcoming entrenched inhibi-
tors to peer intervention. We also discuss the significant risks to officers, agencies,
cities, and communities of not creating an ethos of active bystandership among offi-
cers. Finally, we consider the New Orleans Police Department’s implementation of a
peer intervention or active bystandership program beginning in 2015 (during which
time it was under the oversight of federal consent decree) and present some ‘‘les-
sons learned’’ from that department’s experience.
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, Washington, DC, USA
Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jonathan Aronie, Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, 2099 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite
100, Washington, DC 20006-6801, USA.
Police Quarterly
2017, Vol. 20(3) 295–321
!The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611117710443
consent decree, peer support, police reform
On July 30, 2005, according to the jury findings outlined in the criminal convic-
tion, New Orleans police officer and Field Training Officer Melvin Williams beat
and kicked Raymond Robair so violently he fractured his ribs and lacerated his
spleen (Judonna Mitchell et al. v. City of New Orleans, 2016; U.S. v. Moore,
2013). Mr. Robair ultimately died at a local hospital, where Officer Williams and
his rookie partner Matthew Dean Moore dropped him off, claiming they found
him under an overpass and that he had a history of drug use but saying nothing
about the beating. According to expert testimony at the criminal trial, had the
doctors known of the blunt force trauma, Mr. Robair’s life likely would have
been saved (U.S. v. Moore, 2013). Officer Williams ultimately was convicted of
federal criminal civil rights violations resulting in Mr. Robair’s death and was
sentenced to 21 years in prison for the use of excessive force and obstruction of
justice. Rookie Moore, just 2 months out of the academy, was convicted of
obstruction and lying to the FBI, and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. In
sentencing Moore, the federal judge noted he was present during the beating and
did nothing to stop it (Judonna Mitchell et al. v. City of New Orleans, 2016).
The Raymond Robair case, and many more like it across the country, trad-
itionally is portrayed as quintessential excessive use of force cases; as lessons in
the dangers of poor hiring, poor training, poor supervision, bias, or as blatant
criminal misconduct. But these cases also provide a less-talked-about illustration
of what can happen when bystander officers fail to intervene to prevent miscon-
duct by a fellow officer, that is, ‘‘passive bystandership.’’
For purposes of this manuscript, we define a bystander as a witness who is in a
position to know what is happening and is in a position to take action (Staub,
2007). A ‘‘passive bystander,’’ then, is someone who fails to take action where
the circumstances would seem to require action. While use of force, de-escalation
techniques, and other force-related topics are commonplace in police academies,
a focus on how those who witness the use of excessive force can stop or mitigate
it still is not (Attard, 2015; Staub, 2007).
The importance of peer intervention by police officers to prevent misconduct
by fellow officers as a key police reform tool recently was considered by the
President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing through testimony by the
National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement:
Police Peer Intervention is a training program that teaches, in a practical and posi-
tive way, the powerful influence that police officers have on the conduct and behav-
ior of their fellow officers. The training equips, encourages, and supports officers to
intervene and prevent their colleagues from committing acts of serious misconduct
296 Police Quarterly 20(3)

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