In 2017, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria "Rondo" Arradondo met with a small group of community activists who urged him to adopt a training program that teaches officers to intervene when a colleague uses excessive force.
The duty to intervene in such cases is one of the department's rules, but the group argued it was not enough.
Arradondo posed a hypothetical situation to the group, describing trainees witnessing misconduct by their field training officer (FTO).
"I'm thinking of that 10-day recruit," Arradondo said during the recorded encounter. "This [veteran officer] is holding a lot of power in passing [the trainee] and [the trainee] sees something, an act of misconduct or behavior. ... We can certainly say it's a policy to intervene, but how do we realistically do that?"
That scenario played out 2½ years later when officer Derek Chauvin, a veteran in his 20th year with Minneapolis police, planted his knee on the neck of George Floyd for nearly eight minutes, killing him, while three less experienced officers, two of them just days on the job, did not stop him. All four officers have been fired and face felony charges.
Arradondo's discussion occurred during a meeting with leaders of Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), which was urging him to adopt a peer intervention training program developed by the New Orleans Police Department called Ethical Policing Is Courageous (EPIC). The program "strives to redefine police culture so that intervention to prevent or stop harmful action is not an exception to good teamwork; it is the very definition of good teamwork," according to its website.
Minneapolis never adopted the EPIC training model. Arradondo declined to comment, and police spokesman John Elder declined to discuss the training as it related to Floyd's death, saying: "We are unable to discuss any aspects of that case due to the independent investigation into this."
Elder said "a great deal of diligence" went into reviewing the EPIC model.
"We have been looking at alternate programs as well. This is not the only program of its kind, so we want to ensure we have evaluated the ones most likely to work for us," he said. "We had planned on sending people to trainings for these programs; however, COVID has put a pause on that."
The department mandates a duty to intervene to prevent another officer from engaging in misconduct, but it is not clear how that training occurs. Elder said the duty to intervene is covered during training at the academy and addressed during "peer-support team efforts for all sworn personnel."
A basic tenet of EPIC is that while officers should intervene when they see another officer engage in excessive force, there is a tendency not to do it and remain a bystander, perhaps hoping someone else will step in, especially if the person engaged in misbehavior is a supervisor. Intervention, according to the EPIC thesis, must be taught through training and role-playing, it must be embraced by top leadership, and it must be continually reinforced through more training to the point that it infuses the departmental culture.
"To my understanding, this is a tool kit," Arradondo told the CUAPB members on the recording. "We have a policy, duty to report, duty to intervene. How does intervening when Rondo is doing something wrong, what does that look like? ... How do we empower and support our folks to actually feel like they can intervene in a situation?"
EPIC was instituted in New Orleans in 2016 as part of a federal consent decree after wholesale misconduct was uncovered inside the department. At the time of Floyd's death, only a few police departments besides New Orleans had such peer intervention programs, although Baltimore and Washington, D.C., were working to develop them.
But in the aftermath of Floyd's death, the states of Washington and New Hampshire want to implement it statewide, as do Philadelphia; Wilmington and Fayetteville, N.C., and Boston.
Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C., has launched Project ABLE, which stands for Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement, which will conduct training for officers around the country beginning next month. More than 100 law enforcement agencies have expressed interest.
"I think [EPIC] is a great program and I would like to be in a position where we bring it statewide," said Kelly McCarthy, chair of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, which oversees police training for the state. She was unequivocal when asked if a peer intervention program could have prevented Floyd's death.
"When you look at that incident, that is the only thing that would have prevented it," she said. "This to me is where me and other law enforcement leaders failed. It is because we have an expectation that they [officers] intercede, but we haven't provided them training or tools to do so."
Retired Minneapolis police Sgt. Michael Quinn helped develop the first curriculum for EPIC and has worked with CUAPB. Quinn said in an e-mail that he first raised the idea of a peer intervention program with then-chief Tim Dolan. But Dolan says he was never approached by Quinn.
In 2013, Quinn said he proposed peer intervention training to Dolan's successor, Chief Janeé Harteau. Harteau acknowledged meeting with Quinn and said that she did not reject the idea but was focused on other training priorities.
In St. Paul, Chief Todd Axtell says he's worked to outline clear expectations for his rank-and-file about the "moral obligation" to step in when a fellow officer's actions are improper — no matter how long you've been wearing the badge.
"I don't know of any duties more important," said Axtell, a proponent of the EPIC program. He sent Deputy Chief Julie Maidment to the New Orleans training before Floyd's death and expects to roll out the program in his own department this fall.
CUAPB raised peer-intervention training at its first meeting with Arradondo shortly after he became chief in August 2017, and he was supportive.
"I want to get it to where, if we're working, I feel absolutely empowered, where I can say, 'Hey, you need to stay in the car, decompress and complete the job, because you're not able to deal with the folks I'm dealing with right now.' "
In the second meeting with CUAPB that November, Arradondo said he had spoken briefly to the New Orleans police chief, who had done a short presentation on EPIC.
In a July 2018 meeting that Arradondo did not attend, Deputy Chief Henry Halvorson, in charge of training, spoke with CUAPB leaders Michelle Gross and Dave Bicking. He said he had gone to New Orleans and attended training but felt stymied because they did not have a "road map" that he could use in developing a program in Minneapolis.
Jonathan Aronie, a Washington, D.C., attorney and the federal monitor who oversees the consent decree in New Orleans, is a supporter of EPIC and played a key role in developing the Georgetown training program.
"There's no guarantee, but with this sort of training, it is more likely that Mr. Floyd would be alive today," he said. "The officers on the scene would have felt empowered to take action, they would have been more confident to take action, and they would be more likely to take action."
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224