After years of social justice movements demanding a change in how police conduct themselves, departments around the country are taking notice.
More and more are turning to a program that teaches officers how to hold each other accountable before an incident like the one that happened to George Floyd occurs.
The program is called Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) and is currently implemented in more than 175 police departments and sheriff departments nationwide.
The program began in New Orleans in 2015 as a way to combat corruption and incidents that had plagued the department for years. It was developed, in part, by the Georgetown University Law School and is built on three core pillars: intervention skills to prevent misconduct, intervention skills to prevent mistakes, and intervention skills to promote officer health and wellness.
“I got a letter from a 40-year veteran in the Philadelphia Police Department who said, ‘Mr. Aronie this is the best training I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been through enough to know why we need it,'” said Jonathan Aronie, one of the program’s co-chairman, and a lawyer who lives in New Orleans. “This isn’t a program about the duty to intervene. This is a program about what we have never done in this country. We’ve never really taught the tactics of intervention.”
After the George Floyd incident in May 2020, Aronie said he received hundreds of calls from police chiefs around the country inquiring about ABLE. One of those was from Chief Paul Pazen, police chief for the Denver Police Department.
“I believe that there is [as much of an internal recognition of a need for a change in culture as there is in the public], and I believe that this is part of the solution,” he said.
In September, DPD became one of the first 30 agencies in the country to adopt the ABLE program. Now, more than 200 officers in the department on trained on intervention tactics, it could be as simple as checking up on a fellow officer and asking how they are doing.
“I wear my ABLE pin proudly and when I’m talking to my officers, I let them know what that means. I’m giving them permission to tackle me if I’m harming someone; to step in before I make that mistake,” said Pazen. “This is an evidence-based program. It teaches those interventions at the earliest possible moment, so my officers don’t need to tackle me. They have permission if I get to that point, but part of it is tapping me on the shoulder. Part of it is pulling me aside.”
ABLE does not advertise, is a nonprofit, and requires a rigorous application process so it knows the departments that want to get involved are truly keen on adopting its philosophy.
The requirements include letters vouching for the department on behalf of the city’s mayor, the police chief, and two community watchdog organizations.
ABLE is currently working to bring itself to every police department in seven states across the country.