Police intervention training gains momentum after calls for reform

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(NewsNation) — Earlier this year, University of Colorado Boulder police (CUPD) committed themselves to a new type of training that focuses not on how they respond to criminal suspects but how they respond to each other.

With the assistance of the nearby Denver Police Department, CUPD signed up for training from the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project. The goal of the ABLE training is to teach police officers how to intervene when they see mistakes or misconduct from fellow officers.

“We believed that this training would help our officers and our agency, and really affect culture for our community,” said CUPD Training Sgt. Brian Brown.

After the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, interest in peer intervention exploded. Floyd’s death made national headlines and sparked protests calling for police reform around use-of-force incidents.

Three former Minneapolis police officers were convicted of aiding and abetting in Floyd’s murder after not intervening when former officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.

On Thursday, ex-officer Thomas Lane was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for his part in Floyd’s death. Chauvin received sentences of more than 20 years in both his state and federal court cases.

The ABLE curriculum revolves around three pillars: preventing mistakes, preventing misconduct and promoting health and wellness. Every officer gets an 8-hour initial training that includes both lectures and opportunities for role play, followed up by an additional two hours they get every year as a refresher.

“We have them practice intervening…in scenarios that they’re likely to face so that over time, intervening when you see something that shouldn’t be happening just becomes part of the regular process for officers,” said Lisa Kurtz, the director of the ABLE Project at Georgetown University’s Innovative Policing Project program.

Brown offered the case of a heated foot chase as an example where ABLE training may come in handy. An officer who was chasing a fleeing subject may remain in an elevated physiological state even after subduing the suspect, providing an opportunity for another officer to step in before any misconduct occurs.

“Because ABLE helps create a culture of intervention I feel like I easily can walk over, at our agency, and say, ‘Hey, let me take this from here. You just got in a foot chase. Hang tight, let me get their information. Let me do what I need to do, put ’em in the back of my car,” he said.

ABLE’s origins can be found in the New Orleans Police Department, where Kurtz managed the department’s Ethical Policing Is Courageous (EPIC) program, which was founded in 2014 as the first agency-wide peer intervention program implemented in the United States.

After EPIC was put into place, New Orleans police saw a reduction in excessive force and citizen complaints, although Kurtz noted that the city was also under a consent decree at the same time, so it’s difficult to identify what specifically led to the improvements.

Soon, other agencies grew interested in the work of EPIC, and the department began sharing its practices with others nationwide. Kurtz said more than 100 departments contacted them to learn about EPIC.

To meet this demand, Kurtz worked with the Innovative Policing Project and a team of social scientists, police leaders and community activists to create ABLE, which is modeled on EPIC.

“Almost two years later, we have more than 260 agencies that have joined ABLE and have committed to the ABLE standards,” Kurtz said.

The training comes at no cost to the police agencies, but ABLE requires them to demonstrate commitment by obtaining a letter of support from both the head of the agency (such as a chief or sheriff), the chief executive of the jurisdiction (such as a mayor or governor) and two letters from community organizations vouching for the department.

In order to promote officer mental health, ABLE requires participating agencies to offer access to no- or low-cost mental health services. In the case of the CUPD, that requirement is met by both university mental health staff and police-specific psychologists.

ABLE is serious about its standards. Earlier this year, the Orlando Police Department was ejected from the program after it removed a trainer’s teaching privileges after he reported concerns that the curriculum was not being properly followed.

Kurtz conceded that there is ongoing research about the impact of ABLE, meaning we don’t know how effective the program is overall just yet. But she noted has been contacted by officers who said the program made them more likely to intervene.

“I think the best part of my job is having officers who call me or email me and say, ‘I did this thing that I would never have done without ABLE, but because I did it, someone didn’t get hurt,” Kurtz said. “Someone didn’t get in trouble. Someone didn’t do something they regretted.”


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