The Honolulu Police Department is rolling out a new ethics training program in hopes of reducing officer misconduct and citizen complaints.

Ethical Policing Is Courageous, or EPIC, teaches police officers to intervene when they witness other officers engaging in unethical conduct, said HPD Sgt. James Shyer, at a police commission meeting last week.

The program was developed by the New Orleans Police Department and its community partners after police misconduct problems led to a federal consent decree, he said. It has helped curb that department’s citizen complaints by 13%.

“Everyone benefits when potential misconduct is not perpetrated and when potential mistakes are not made,” said Shyer, who attended a training in New Orleans and is certified to train HPD officers.

EPIC is a peer intervention program for police officers developed by the New Orleans Police Department. Screenshot

EPIC fosters discussions about cover-ups, ignoring problems, misguided loyalty and how those things can “exacerbate the negative public perception of police work,” Shyer said.

But police have a legal and moral obligation to intervene.

HPD has had a series of highly publicized misconduct issues in recent years, one of which involves its former chief, Louis Kealoha, who was convicted last June of conspiracy and obstruction charges. Two of his subordinates, Derek Hahn and Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, who were members of the department’s elite Criminal Intelligence Unit, were also convicted along with him.

Three others in that unit were charged with involvement in the federal conspiracy case: Niall Silva and Daniel Sellers pleaded guilty early on. Retired Major Gordon Shiraishi was tried as a co-defendant with the former police chief and his wife, Hahn and Nguyen, but was found not guilty by a 12-member jury.

That’s just one example. Civil Beat compiled 16 years of disciplinary action by Honolulu police into an interactive database.

Steve Levinson, a Honolulu police commissioner, lauded the department for taking up the EPIC program, saying an ethics training was “long needed.”

Honolulu Police Commission Vice Chair Steven Levinson.
Honolulu Police Commissioner Steve Levinson said ethics training was “long needed.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

He pointed to a case in federal court involving HPD officers who allegedly forced a homeless man’s face into a urinal and made him lick it. One officer, Reginald Ramones, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of failing to report another officer for depriving a homeless man of his civil rights.

“I think it’s apparent to everybody that we’re dealing with a cultural problem,” the commissioner said.

But Levinson said he was concerned about how the police department would make it clear to the officers that intervention needs to be taken seriously.

‘The Courage To Step Up’

The New Orleans Police Department was placed under a federal consent decree in 2012 after a pattern of alleged civil rights violations, including the case of an officer fatally shooting an unarmed man, according to the city of New Orleans.

New Orleans police say EPIC is not part of the consent decree, but the program addresses a lot of the community policing issues brought up by the decree.

Now the EPIC program is receiving national recognition, with other law enforcement agencies around the country using it, including those in Albuquerque, New Mexico, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Asheville, North Carolina, said Shyer.

According to the program guide, EPIC mixes classroom instruction with scenario-based role playing, which incorporates what psychologists call “active bystandership.”

Being a passive bystander is doing nothing, Shyer said.

Being an active one is noticing and acknowledging when your colleagues and friends are having issues or behavior improperly, he added.

“We’re encouraging and we’re empowering officers to have the courage to step up and be that person to intervene,” he said.

What EPIC is not is a peer reporting program, said HPD Deputy Chief Jonathon Grems.

“Intervening or speaking to another officer isn’t snitching,” he said. “It’s trying to save his or her career, family and life and it’s also protecting the community.”

“If the intervention is successful, there would be no wrongful action and thus nothing to report or tell on,” he added.

He said current HPD officers will begin receiving EPIC classes starting in January as part of their annual training. Attendance is mandatory.

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