A national policing expert offered high praise Tuesday for a New Orleans Police Department program that trains officers to intervene when they believe a colleague is about to use excessive force or commit some other form of misconduct. 

The program, known as Ethical Policing Is Courageous, or EPIC, is one of the first of its kind and is among several signs that the NOPD "is on offense, rather than on defense," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

NOPD brass have said they hope the training will become a national model

"We call this going upstream," Wexler told the New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation's annual luncheon at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel. "It's going to save lives, and it's going to save careers."  

Wexler, introduced by Police Superintendent Michael Harrison as "the foremost expert in policing," acknowledged the growing scrutiny of police tactics nationwide, including the proliferation of cellphone videos that increasingly capture cases when police shoot people and otherwise use force. 

But he credited the NOPD for being at the forefront of reform and for embracing a sweeping federal consent decree that has brought about an overhaul of the department's policies. 

"You all are at the right place at the right time," Wexler said, addressing a packed ballroom filled with criminal justice leaders, NOPD veterans and new recruits. "You are ahead of where some other departments are." 

Wexler also praised the NOPD's emphasis on preserving the "sanctity of human life" in its approach to policing, pointing in particular to a policy that forbids officers from firing on moving vehicles during pursuits. NOPD policy differs in that regard from agencies like the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and Louisiana State Police. 

"You say, 'We're not going to kill someone over a stolen car,' " Wexler said. 

Harrison on Tuesday awarded badges of honor to two officers, including Natasha Hunter, who was struck and killed this year by an allegedly drunken motorist on Interstate 10. Hunter's sister, Kianka, a fellow police officer, and daughter, Jasmine, accepted the award on Natasha's behalf amid a standing ovation. 

Also receiving a badge of honor was Officer Jonathan Burnette of the department's 3rd District, whom Harrison credited with solving a number of armed robberies and carjackings. Burnette, an Iraq war veteran and the son of two police officers, joined the NOPD in 2009.

"He also works aggressively to rid the 3rd District of prostitution and drug offenders," Harrison said. 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.