CASTLE SHANNON, Pa. — A local police department is proud to have completed an intervention training program centered on keeping officers and community members safe.
“We find it’s going to be very valuable,” said Castle Shannon Police Chief Ken Truver. “I think this is going to be the next big thing in law enforcement.”
The program is called ABLE, standing for Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement, and was launched through a partnership with Georgetown University’s Innovative Policing Program and global law firm Sheppard Mullin.
“Active bystandership is simply intervening when it’s appropriate to do so,” Truver said.
It’s a concept that can be applied to most any field and nearly any individual who could come across a scenario requiring intervention.
Yet intervening isn’t always so easy.
“What we know from years and years of social science research is that humans think that we are a lot better at intervening and a lot more effective at intervening than we actually are,” said Lisa Kurtz, ABLE Project Director. “We give officers the skills and the tactics that they need to step in and to intervene effectively as well as to receive those interventions effectively.”
Chief Truver adds, “this program explores those reasons, why you would not intervene, and helps us develop and train a culture in the police department where we do intervene.”
Kurtz said ABLE was inspired by a similar program launched in 2015 in New Orleans called EPIC, standing for Ethical Policing is Courageous. She was part of that program, and said many other departments reached out to model the idea, particularly in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
But ABLE, which launched in 2020, isn’t solely about police intervention when it comes to misconduct or mistakes. It’s also aimed at helping officers recognize when another office may need help, teaching them “warning signs” of a potentially dangerous mental health issue.
“We also teach them how to start having those conversations with those colleagues, how to begin addressing those issues and also to recognize when they need to bring in professional help,” Kurtz said.
With that said, Kurtz said ABLE doesn’t impose any new reporting requirements for officers that would compel them to get a colleague in trouble.
Rather, the program aims to prevent a situation that could otherwise require discipline.
“It’s a program to protect officers’ physical safety, their mental and emotional wellbeing’s, as well as, of course, protecting the communities that they serve,” Kurtz told us in a ZOOM interview.
ABLE is free for nearly every police department, with the exception of certain large forces like the NYPD.
Police departments, however, must submit several letters to be accepted from the head of the department, the head of the municipality and numerous community groups.
They also must agree to meet certain standards, including to protect any officer who intervenes from any type of retaliation.
ABLE first trains someone within the police department, and that individual then trains his or her fellow officers. Supervisors must also receive the training, Kurtz said. There are yearly refreshers as well.
Truver said his department is the first to have completed the training in the southwestern Pennsylvania region.
“Our officers have all been trained in ABLE and they’re ready to employ it and they embrace the concept and I’m proud of them for that,” he said.
Truver said he hopes other local departments apply as well, and he’d be willing to offer up their trainer, a lieutenant, to assist.
Kurtz told us they hold training sessions on a regular basis, and typically book about eight weeks out. So far, they have brought the program to 170 agencies across the U.S. and Canada. Locally, the University of Pittsburgh’s police force has also been accepted.
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