On June 4, the East Lansing Police Department was selected to participate in Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) training, after Police Chief Kim Johnson submitted a request for ELPD’s inclusion in the program. The program aims to teach officers how to intervene when fellow officers are unnecessarily endangering people.
ABLE training is spearheaded by Georgetown University and started running in June of 2020. According to the ABLE website, the program is designed to “prepare officers to successfully intervene to prevent harm and to create a law enforcement culture that supports peer intervention.”
In his application letter, Johnson referenced current ELPD policy on “Response to Resistance” and said it “directs our employees to intervene on observed excessive use of force situations. These words in a policy do not mean a thing if our officers do not know how to intervene in these types of situations safely and effectively.”
Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez explained the other goals of the ABLE program to ELi.
“The objectives of the program are preventing misconduct, avoiding police mistakes, and promoting officer health and wellness.”
He went on to explain that ABLE is more than further use of force training.
“ABLE addresses the use of force component, but also takes a deeper dive into officer behavior,” wrote Gonzalez to ELi. “ABLE creates a culture and trains officers to intervene in any number of scenarios that may involve misconduct thereby ensuring procedures and protocols are adhered to and officers are operating in an ethical manner. The program also trains officers to accept peer intervention.”
So, what is the ABLE program?
ABLE is a continuation of training first developed by Dr. Ervin Staub, Professor Emeritus of Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied the causes of mass violence and genocide and the role of bystanders. In conjunction with the New Orleans Police Department, Staub and other consultants created EPIC (Ethical Policing Is Courageous), a peer intervention program, in 2014. The ABLE program claims to “build upon” both EPIC and Dr. Staub’s work.
In order to participate, a law enforcement agency must agree to abide by ABLE’s set of standards, which include how the agency will perpetuate ABLE techniques beyond the initial training. The ten standards include eight hours of original training with two-hour “annual refresher training.”
ELPD must also focus on providing for “officer wellness,” accountability in investigating failures to intervene, and promotion of ABLE techniques within the department and to other nearby agencies.
Along with this, other standards focus on the long-term commitment of departments to ABLE principles as well as “paying it forward” to other local law enforcement agencies by “making reasonable efforts to make ABLE training available to surrounding law enforcement agencies” by previously trained instructors.
The ABLE program also conducts “pre-implementation” and “post-implementation” surveys of all officers that undergo the training in order to “measur[e] officer perceptions.”
Gonazlez told ELi that when ELPD was approved for the ABLE program in June 2021, it became the fourth police department in Michigan to begin the ABLE process.
Letters of support from the community were required as part of the application. City Manager George Lahanas wrote a letter on ELPD’s behalf, as did Pastor Jermaine Gayle of University Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and a representative from the ACLU of Michigan.
Gayle wrote, “We believe that your plan to utilize the ‘ABLE Project’ is a step in the right direction that will help to facilitate better interactions with the community at large and provide accountability between fellow officers.”
In his letter, Lahanas said, “We believe the ABLE training would be a great opportunity for the department and would greatly benefit our officers and the community. We want to see more positive change in our community, and this would be another step in the right direction for our police department.”
When will ELPD start the program?
In a letter from ABLE to Chief Johnson, ABLE invited 2 officers from ELPD to attend a “Train-the-Trainer Session” in July of this year. When asked in August, Deputy Chief Gonzalez confirmed that ELPD is currently sending officers through this part of the program.
The ABLE application calls for 1-3 officers to attend this “two+ day event [that] will certify select law enforcement trainers to conduct ABLE training for their departments and surrounding jurisdictions.”
The training takes place over the course of a week and involves about 24 hours of work, through a classroom setting, small groups, and reading assignments to be done on one’s own. Once the ELPD officers complete this training, they will then train the rest of the staff- both the civilians and the sworn officers.
Gonzalez said this training, that will “implement the program department wide” will begin at the start of 2022.