Peer intervention is critical to policing, especially as the public continues to call for increased accountability and meaningful reform.
And the duty an officer has to intervene is clear. Not only has it been written into law for over 150 years, but we have seen the repercussions of not intervening with the death of George Floyd. Just this week J. Alexander Kueng made news for accepting his part in Floyd’s death when he failed to step in.
The question that arises for me is: What gets in the way of peer intervention? What keeps a person from stepping in, when they know they’re witnessing a violation of someone’s rights?
Certainly culture plays a part. The peer intervention training, ABLE, emphasizes the need to renew a policing culture where intervention is seen as something we do both for the good of the community and to support fellow officers in choosing the right thing.
I would add that another significant piece are feelings of threat. It’s not easy to call out a colleague, especially one that might outrank you, for using excessive force or violating a person’s rights. What might be the repercussions? What if your effort to intervene is rebuffed? How do you deal with the conflict that might ensue?
Feelings of threat don’t only drive us to fight, but can lead us to freeze and not act in situations where we must.
In our September article for American Police Beat, Karen Collins Rice, of ABLE and Heroes, and I explore how strengthening conflict capacity through programs like Insight Policing can support officers as active bystanders so they can confidently intervene when it’s the right thing to do.
Have you been faced with the need to intervene? What was that like for you? What concerns did you have? What helped you overcome them? We’d love to hear your stories.