A former Minneapolis police sergeant, recognized for his work in helping clean up the scandal-plagued New Orleans Police Department, says he twice offered his old department training that could have prevented the death of George Floyd. Twice he was turned down.
Michael Quinn, a retired 23-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, said he offered intervention training to two former MPD chiefs. The training teaches officers how to intervene with a fellow officer before situations escalate and is credited with changing cultures in police departments. Quinn says the training would have taught Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane what to do when they saw then-officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. The three are now charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder; their charging documents stating “none of the officers moved from their positions” as Floyd lay dying.
After decades of police brutality and corruption cases in which officers witnessed their co-workers engage in illegal acts but did nothing — or helped them actively conceal the crimes — some police reformers developed a new training protocol focused on the duty to intervene.
Known as “peer intervention training,” the method seeks to create a different culture inside police departments, one that encourages officers to correct their co-workers, rather than remain silent or participate in cover-ups.
In 2004, Quinn wrote a memoir that described a pervasive culture of casual lawbreaking and coverups within the Minneapolis Police Department.
In doing so, Quinn became one of just a handful of police officers who have candidly discussed the problems of American policing from the inside. He would go on to become a nationally-recognized expert in police reform, helping the corruption-plagued New Orleans Police Department make improvements under a federal consent decree.
Quinn is battling cancer and declined to be interviewed, but in an email he said he offered training to the Minneapolis Police Department, including former Chief Janeé Harteau.
Quinn developed his own peer intervention training while consulting with the New Orleans Police Department, according to documents he provided. In 2013, he met with Harteau and offered his training to the department for free. She expressed excitement at the offer, he wrote in 2016, but “that was the last I heard from her.”
Minneapolis Police did not respond to requests for comment.
Harteau provided a written statement that did not address Quinn or peer intervention, but said she consulted “national experts” during her tenure, including the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Multiple initiatives were derived from these reviews, which included the addition of body cameras and every member of the department receiving implicit bias and procedural justice training,” the statement says. According to a document Harteau provided, the principal behind procedural justice is to “help police explain why they are doing what they are doing.”
Her statement also pointed out that the MPD was the first department in the country to include a duty to intervene in its use of force policy. “As a result of our progress, we were one of only five cities to be selected into the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice,” she wrote.
None of that prevented Floyd’s killing. Paul Noel, a deputy police chief in New Orleans, thinks Quinn’s training could have made a difference.
In 2013, Quinn was part of a group that developed the “Ethical Policing is Courageous” peer intervention program, known as EPIC, for the New Orleans Police Department.
In 2012, after decades of scandal, the NOPD entered a voluntary consent decree with the Department of Justice. Attorney Jonathan Aronie was named the administrator of the department. The consent decree mentioned peer intervention training, but, “frankly, no one paid much attention to that line at the start,” Aronie said in a telephone interview.
About a year into the decree, a diverse group of rank-and-file police officers and community activists approached him about implementing a peer intervention program.
Aronie and the department put together a working group of NOPD officers and outside experts — including Quinn. That group laid the foundation of what is now EPIC.
Noel, the NOPD deputy chief, said police work comes with high stress situations that can lead to escalation: “Everybody gets excited, everybody gets upset.” This is why it’s necessary for fellow officers to step in, he said: “We have officers who are in position to step in and say ‘Hey, I’ve got this,’ or tap the person on the shoulder and walk them away from a situation.”
The intent, he said, is to intervene long before a situation escalates to violence.
Aronie said he witnessed an incident like this. A man had been arrested and taken to a police station where he was yelling racial slurs at a sergeant, a person of color. The man spit on the sergeant from a distance. The sergeant charged the handcuffed suspect, but a junior officer caught him in a bear hug and carried him out of the room.
Noel said that when he began with the NOPD in the 1990s, it was unheard of to even suggest that a fellow officer be removed from a situation.
Citizen complaints are down and community satisfaction is up, Aronie said. How much of that is from the intervention program or from the almost 500 paragraphs of other guidance in the consent decree isn’t clear. The impact of the program is hard to quantify, but the consensus among both police critics and police officers interviewed by the Reformer is that the program has been a success.
Noel, who has seen the footage of George Floyd’s killing, said the junior officers should have intervened “up to the point of removing him [Derek Chauvin] from Mr. Floyd. That is the culture change our program brings to our agency.”