New Orleans Program Teaches Officers to Police One Another


In this time of often high tension between police and communities a new program has emerged that has great potential for benefitting both police and citizens. It is based on the all-important work on bystanders done by professor Ervin Staub of the University of Massachussetts. As a survivor of the Nazi holocaust professor Staub knows first-hand the difference that intervention or passivity by bystanders makes. What is novel about the program being conducted in New Orleans is the training of police themselves to intervene to de-escalate reactions by their fellow police officers to volatile events. The program correctly identifies that it is in the interest of all law enforcement officers to support a culture in which intervention by their colleagues is recognized as protecting them as well as the community. We are all human. Any of us can lose some self-control once events trigger our adrenaline. When citizens intervene to calm their fellow citizens and police intervene to calm their fellow police officers, there will be far fewer unintended tragic outcomes.

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The New York Times
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
Aug. 28, 2016

NEW ORLEANS — This city’s Police Department is not huge, and its past is particularly rough, so in a room of a dozen or so officers, most are going to know the bad cases all too well.

Many, for instance, knew the former officer who was fired this summer for hitting a man in handcuffs — and the two officers who were fired for watching him do it and lying about it. A few knew the officers convicted of shooting six unarmed people on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina. A sergeant who had been charged with physically confronting a reporter in the weeks after Katrina, a charge that was ultimately dropped, was there in the room…

[…] In an age when policing is under intense scrutiny, new training programs for officers are showing up across the country. Organizers say this one, which everyone on the 1,172-member police force here is expected to take, stands out in two ways…

[…] The first is its goal: teaching officers how to be psychologically prepared to intervene when they see fellow officers on the verge of unethical behavior, no matter the circumstances…

[…] The second is the program’s origins. While the curriculum was developed by New Orleans officers and outside experts, its core principles are rooted in the work of Ervin Staub, a retired psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who knows as well as anyone the perils of passivity and the virtues of intervention…

[…] His theories intrigued Mary Howell, a civil rights lawyer here who contacted Professor Staub about a police brutality lawsuit in 1992. She would later recommend his books to New Orleans officers, community activists and, in recent years, Justice Department officials involved in a federal investigation into the Police Department, brought about by post-Katrina police abuses…

[…] As detailed in a blistering 2011 report, that inquiry found that “officers of every rank” routinely violated the constitutional rights of residents, while those who tried to intervene could expect retribution. “They don’t all do bad things,” Stephen Parker, who was on the Justice Department team and is now a private consultant, recalled hearing from a citizen. “But the other ones let the bad guys do bad things…”

[…] in the spring of last year, with the input of Professor Staub and several other outside experts, a group of New Orleans police officers began to develop a formal intervention program…

[…] in the hyper-transparent era of body cameras and smartphones, this was a way to protect fellow officers from disciplinary action, criminal charges or worse…

[…] “Would you stop your partner from getting shot if you could?” Officer Jacob Lundy, an instructor, asked. “Why wouldn’t you stop your partner from being fired if you could?..”

[…] Several in the class suggested this might not be so easy in practice. How does a rookie tell an unfamiliar superior officer, at a tense scene, that he or she is crossing a line? How can an officer take an unscheduled rest, even if badly needed, when the department is facing a serious shortage of manpower?..

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As a child in Budapest during World War II, Professor Staub and his family were hidden by a brave cleaning woman and later by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis. Professor Staub devoted his career to the study of good and evil, examining how genocides and other cases of group violence happen — in Nazi Germany, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and elsewhere — and why certain people choose to help.

“Violence, and also helping, tend to evolve progressively,” he said in a recent interview, explaining how groups grow more violent when observers remain passive. “Some bystanders may act, but usually only after violence has become extreme,” he continued. “One of the things that I’ve been thinking about for some time is how we can move this forward so that people don’t remain passive until tragic things happen.”

After the beating of Rodney King in 1991 by Los Angeles police officers, Professor Staub was invited by California law enforcement officials to propose training strategies to encourage the police to practice what he calls “active bystandership” — intervening to prevent a bad thing from happening despite the impulse to look away.

New Orleans Program Teaches Officers to Police One Another
2016 © Ira Chaleff Publications