ABLE Frequently Asked Questions
What is ABLE?
The Georgetown Law Innovative Policing Program, partnering with global law firm Sheppard Mullin, has created the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project to prepare officers to successfully intervene to prevent harm and to create a law enforcement culture that supports peer intervention. The ABLE Project builds upon a training developed by Dr. Ervin Staub, the Founding Director of the UMass Amherst Psychology of Peace and Violence Program, to help police officers stop unnecessary harmful behavior by fellow officers. In 2014, Dr. Staub, other experts, and the New Orleans Police Department developed the successful Ethical Policing Is Courageous (EPIC) Peer Intervention Program in New Orleans. The ABLE Project builds upon EPIC and Dr. Staub’s prior work to develop and deliver practical, scenario-based training for police agencies in the strategies and tactics of police peer intervention. Importantly, alongside this training, the ABLE Project guides agencies and communities on the concrete measures that must be in place to create and sustain a culture of peer intervention. The ABLE Project also will provide a wide array of resources to communities and law enforcement agencies across the country interested in developing peer intervention programs of their own.
Why does law enforcement need to be trained in active bystandership?
Law enforcement officers are frequently faced with high-stress, high-stakes decisions. ABLE believes it is the responsibility of every officer to act to prevent mistakes, prevent misconduct, and promote their fellow officers’ health and wellbeing. It is harder to successfully intervene than many think—and training can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful intervention by an active bystander. Active bystandership has proven effective in reducing harm in the medical profession, in the airline industry, and on college and university campuses. It is time to adopt these principles in law enforcement, so that the tools of active bystandership can help prevent unnecessary harm in this context as well.
How do we know ABLE works?
It is difficult to quantify the success of active bystandership training because, in most cases, when it works, nothing news-worthy happens. However, there is evidence that active bystandership training is effective. Dr. Ervin Staub and other scholars have studied active bystandership for decades, and their research confirms the skills necessary to intervene successfully can be taught and learned. Dr. Staub and others also have conducted extensive field experiments that show the inhibitors to an intervention can be overcome even in hierarchical, high group-cohesion environments, like policing. Other national problems have been successfully mitigated using active bystandership techniques, including drunk driving, mistakes in surgery, pilot errors, and sexual assaults on college and university campuses, and there is evidence that law enforcement can similarly benefit: the on-the-ground experience of the New Orleans Police Department. The NOPD developed and implemented an active bystandership program called EPIC (Ethical Policing Is Courageous), and, as NOPD officers and leaders attest, it has made a positive difference. This learning serves as the foundation for the ABLE Project.
In addition to what we already know, the Georgetown University Law Center and other ABLE partners will be studying the data from the implementation of ABLE with academic rigor. Each agency accepted into the ABLE Project must conduct a pre-implementation survey and post-implementation survey that has been developed in consultation with researchers with expertise in researching policing issues. These survey results, coupled with other data to be shared by the participating agencies, will provide unique opportunities to supplement the bystandership research conducted to date.
How does ABLE differ from other “duty to intervene” training?
While we generally refer to ABLE “training,” ABLE really is both education and training. Many existing trainings emphasize the legal duty to intervene, but do not teach law enforcement professionals how to intervene successfully, or ground that skills-based training in the science of active bystandership. ABLE training is based on a professionally-designed curriculum that draws on decades of social science research and uses adult-based learning methods to deliver this learning effectively. ABLE employs evidence-based practices to give officers the tools and skills they need to perform an intervention. ABLE also teaches the science behind the skills, so that officers have a better understanding of why ABLE works and thus can use it more effectively.
Further, ABLE offers more than just an initial training. ABLE helps agencies create a climate in which active bystandership is welcome and effective. ABLE requires a commitment from leadership to build a culture where active bystandership is encouraged, expected, and accepted. Officers are trained in how to give an intervention, how to receive an intervention, and how to follow up on the intervention to prevent future harm. Further, each agency accepted into the program must abide by 10 ABLE Standards and submit letters from community groups vouching for the agency’s sincere commitment to ABLE. The Standards and community letters alone make ABLE far different from traditional duty-to-intervene trainings.
Does ABLE address structural racism and other biases in policing?
ABLE should be part of a community’s efforts to eliminate policing harms caused by the biases that are woven into the fabric of American society. We are working intentionally to ensure that ABLE directly reduces biased policing and its consequences, including race, ethnic, gender and socio-economic bias. There are two main ways ABLE can do this.
First, ABLE can reduce the harm of biased policing. We know that police misconduct disproportionately impacts people who are Black, Latine, and/or poor. When officers act on their ABLE training to intervene and prevent misconduct, the consequences of disproportionate policing harm thus are reduced. Law enforcement agencies can and should have myriad programs designed to reduce structural and individual officer bias in policing. Alongside such restructuring, agencies and the communities they serve need strategies for reducing the harm of the bias we know currently exists, even as they work to eliminate that bias. ABLE does that by teaching practical strategies and tactics that are effective at preventing the unnecessary police harm that is disproportionately borne by some communities.
Secondly, direct anti-bias and cultural competence strategies are only effective if they do more than raise awareness—they must change conduct. In fact, research has shown that such strategies can be counter productive if they only raise awareness. We believe that ABLE does not replace anti-bias programs, but that it is a necessary component of such programs. This is because it teaches officers how to effectively intervene. For example, ABLE teaches “Notice, Decide, Act.” In this context, that might mean that an officer sees his partner responding aggressively to a woman, or to a Latino man, and the officer knows from anti-bias training that this may be a result of the officer experiencing “identity threat.” But if that is the extent of the insight, that anti-bias training may have no impact on what happens next. But if the officer also has had ABLE training, the officer has been taught the importance of deciding to act, and the skills to do so effectively (it is worth noting that we train officers that implicit and explicit biases may be inhibitors to intervention and provide strategies for overcoming inhibitors). Further, we believe there may be a conduct/culture/conduct feedback loop that makes each intervention a building block to a more fair and equitable police agency.
Which law enforcement agencies and training academies are adopting ABLE?
Scores of law enforcement agencies already have made public commitments to the ABLE Standards and to implementing department-wide active bystandership programs, including the Philadelphia, Denver, Baltimore, Boston, and Wilmington NC Police Departments. In addition, entire regions or states have adopted, or are in the process of adopting, ABLE. This includes the statewide Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission, the state of New Jersey, the New Hampshire Standards and Training Council, and the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy. The FBI National Academy plans to incorporate ABLE as a core component of its renowned law enforcement training program, which trains more than 1,000 senior police executives from across the country and the world each year. Further, we are working with partners to create regional ABLE affiliates that will be able to provide training and implementation support. Already we have provided Train-the-Trainer training to over 100 agencies, representing thousands of officers, and serving communities of millions.
What role does the ABLE Board of Advisors play?
The ABLE Project is dedicated to bringing active bystandership training – and, as importantly, a culture of peer intervention – to police agencies across the country. The ABLE Board of Advisors brings together an exceptional and diverse group of 20-25 people each year, including police chiefs and commanders, line officers, academics, and practitioners, to help guide the ABLE Project. Members of the Board of Advisors provide advice and guidance on how best to achieve ABLE’s five core missions, participate in working groups, serve as sounding boards for ongoing and potential new ABLE initiatives, and serve as ambassadors for ABLE and active bystandership generally across the country.
The ABLE Board of Advisors all are committed to the power of active bystandership not only to reduce officer mistakes, prevent misconduct, and promote health and wellness, but also to serve as a vehicle for true cultural change. The Board of Advisors believes teaching active bystandership, and creating cultures of peer intervention, is a key part of not only preventing harm in policing but transforming the culture of policing. The Board of Advisors also believes that whatever policing may look like in the future, we will continue to need the skills, strategies, and tactics of active bystandership.
What is the ABLE Research Advisory Board?
ABLE is dedicated to studying and evaluating the impact of ABLE training and implementation. We want to learn when, where, and how ABLE works best so that we can continually refine and improve it to ensure that ABLE serves to reduce harm and transform policing culture as effectively as possible.
Our Research Advisory Board is comprised of individuals with expertise in policing research of all types, e.g. quantitative, qualitative, mixed-methods. We are working with our Research Advisory Board to design our ABLE surveys and develop a research agenda.
I’ve heard of the NOPD’s EPIC Program. Is that different from ABLE?
EPIC is the name of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD)’s active bystandership program. The ABLE Project is a nationally-focused active bystandership program that builds on the learning that began with EPIC in NOPD. The creators of the New Orleans EPIC program remain significantly involved in the ABLE Project, and several members of the NOPD serve on the ABLE Project Board of Advisors.
What is Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Program and why does it host the ABLE Project?
The mission of Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Program (IPP) is to identify and advance new approaches to long-standing challenges in policing, including rethinking the role police should play in public safety in a diverse and democratic society; ensuring that policing reduces insecurity and injustice instead of reinforcing inequality; and helping communities, police, and the broader legal system identify ways to work together to address the toxic legacy of racial discrimination that continues to distort law and policy in the United States.
The ABLE Project furthers the IPP’s mission by seeking to reduce policing harm and transform policing culture through training, education, and research.
Community and Partner Questions
Why should communities support ABLE?
Communities rightfully are demanding that law enforcement officers intervene when necessary to prevent their colleagues from causing harm or making costly mistakes. A majority of Americans similarly recognize that policing culture must change. The ABLE Project works intentionally to be more than a mere training program and to instead help communities realize both these goals of reducing policing harm and transforming police culture. Among the groups that recognize that whatever particular public safety structure a community is working towards, we need first responders who can effectively intervene to prevent harm, are members of our ABLE Board of Advisors, including University of Massachusetts Professor Emeritus, and founder of the Psychology of Peace and Violence Program, Dr. Ervin Staub; and Center for Policing Equity co- founder Dr. Tracie Keesee.
Further, as discussed above, we believe that ABLE training is an important part of community efforts to eliminate structural racism and other biases in policing.
What role does the community have in ABLE?
In their applications to ABLE, agencies must include letters of support from two community groups as a public commitment to the ABLE Standards. We intend for ABLE to play a role in strengthening the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve not by changing the rhetoric of policing but rather by changing the nature of policing
We also intend to make agencies’ self-reported adherence to the ABLE Standards public, so that communities can follow up with agencies directly.
My agency is considering implementing ABLE. Where can I find more information?
The ABLE Project website at www.law.georgetown.edu/IPP/ABLE includes a great deal of information about the program. We have also compiled a four-page ABLE fact sheet detailing key points, which you can find here. If your agency is considering moving forward, please reach out to ABLE Project Director Lisa A. Kurtz at Lisa.Kurtz@georgetown.edu. Our team would be happy to set up a phone call or virtual meeting to answer any questions you may have.
My agency has adopted ABLE and has some certified instructors, but we realize we need more. What do we do?
Please contact ABLE Project Director Lisa A. Kurtz at Lisa.Kurtz@georgetown.edu. Depending on your agency’s needs and circumstances, we will schedule additional instructors from your agency to attend an upcoming Train-the-Trainer program, or we will coordinate with ABLE-certified instructors from a neighboring agency to train your agency’s personnel through our Pay It Forward program.
I see ABLE training is free. What is the catch?
We offer our train-the-trainer program free to ABLE Project agencies who can attend one of our regularly scheduled trainings. Becoming an ABLE Project agency requires only that you genuinely commit to the 10 ABLE Standards, and complete the first standard by submitting four letters of support – one from the agency head (e.g., Chief/Sheriff), one from the locality head (e.g., Mayor/County Executive), and two from community groups vouching for the agency’s commitment to ABLE. These Standards are meant to ensure that ABLE training is effective at preventing harm and changing culture. Upon completion of the Train-the-Trainer program, instructors are certified to teach ABLE at their agencies. ABLE provides some ongoing implementation and technical assistance at no charge. Capacity constraints require us to charge a fee for additional technical assistance, and for training provided outside our regularly scheduled train-the-trainer classes.
Why do you require an agency to submit four letters in support of its application?
ABLE is designed to change culture in a way that benefits community members AND police officers. The program works best when it is supported from the bottom up, from the top down, and from side to side. A public commitment to ABLE by both agency and city/state leadership helps ensure that an agency’s adoption of ABLE is supported from all sides and implemented in a meaningful manner. This is why we require that, as one of the 10 ABLE Standards, participating agencies submit four letters of support – one from the agency head (e.g., Chief/Sheriff), one from the locality head (e.g., Mayor/County Executive), and two from community groups vouching for the agency’s commitment to ABLE.
Does ABLE have a reporting requirement?
ABLE is not a disciplinary program or a reporting program. If an action is reportable before the implementation of ABLE, it remains reportable after the implementation of ABLE. If an action is not reportable before the implementation of ABLE, it does not become so after the implementation of ABLE. ABLE simply teaches officers a new skill – a better way to do something many want to do anyway – and seeks to promote a departmental culture where the use of that skill is encouraged, accepted, and even rewarded.
My agency doesn’t want to commit to the 10 ABLE Standards. Can we still have the training?
No. The ABLE Standards are meant to ensure that ABLE training is effective at preventing harm and changing culture so that it supports active bystandership. Adherence to the ABLE Standards is a requirement for initial and ongoing access to the ABLE curriculum, Train-the-Trainer events, subsequent instructor events, and implementation and technical assistance. ABLE is not just a training program; it is a comprehensive active bystandership program. The ABLE Standards were developed based on years of research and practical experience in implementing active bystandership programs. Commitment to the Standards is critical to ensuring the successful creation of a culture of active bystandership within an agency.
What if my agency starts implementing ABLE but subsequently decides to withdraw? What if we decide we cannot maintain our commitment to the Standards?
Any agency that indicates an intention to withdraw from the ABLE Project, or that ceases complying with the ABLE Standards, will no longer be considered an ABLE-certified agency. The agency’s name will be removed from the ABLE website and the agency must return all ABLE materials. ABLE will notify the community groups who submitted letters of support on the agency’s behalf that the agency is no longer ABLE-certified. At its discretion, ABLE may publicly announce the withdrawal of the agency from the ABLE Project.
What data are ABLE-certified agencies required to share?
In accordance with the ABLE Standards, agencies are required to distribute a pre-implementation and post-implementation survey (provided by ABLE) to all commissioned personnel. The results of these surveys will be made publicly available in an anonymized and aggregated format to prevent the identification of individual officers or agencies (unless the officer or agency provides permission otherwise). Additionally, ABLE is working with trusted research partners to collect data demonstrating ABLE’s effectiveness. While additional data sharing is not required, agencies are encouraged to participate in this project.
How does ABLE evaluate adherence to the Standards?
ABLE expects participating agencies to cooperate with reasonable requests from the ABLE Project to evaluate the meaningful implementation of the program by sharing policies, training curriculum, and internal communications; and providing access to leadership and officers for interviews. Moreover, the ABLE team is in regular communication with each agency’s point of contact. In the course of these communications, ABLE may provide technical assistance and support, request updates on implementation status, and review evidence of compliance with the 10 ABLE Standards.
Who receives ABLE training in an ABLE-certified agency?
The ABLE Standards require that all commissioned personnel (including recruits) receive eight hours of initial, dedicated ABLE training, followed by at least two hours of annual refresher training. We recommend training top-level executives and command staff first to demonstrate leadership’s commitment to ABLE. Some agencies have requested training for civilian staff members, for emergency dispatchers, and for other personnel. The ABLE team is currently tailoring our curriculum to accommodate these requests.
What will I learn during an ABLE Train-the-Trainer program?
The ABLE Train-the-Trainer program is a 20-hour program spread over four days that prepares instructors to deliver the ABLE curriculum by providing them with enhanced knowledge of the theory and practice underlying the course material and by sharing best practices gleaned from years of instructional experience. The Train-the-Trainer event is facilitated by experts in the fields of social science, psychology, law enforcement, and instructional design. Instructors have the opportunity to participate in the course as taught by expert trainers, learning how to make the class engaging and interactive while also clearly conveying the learning objectives. They then work in small groups to practice facilitating key components of the class, receiving feedback from their peers as well as from our experts. The small size of the Train-the-Trainer event enables instructors to forge meaningful professional bonds with their colleagues in departments across North America. Upon completion of the Train-the-Trainer program, instructors are certified to teach ABLE to officers within their agencies, and to those at neighboring agencies (in coordination with the ABLE team).
I’ve received my ABLE instructor certification! Who can I train? Can I certify other instructors?
Congratulations! As an ABLE-certified instructor, you can teach the ABLE curriculum to officers of all ranks across your agency. This includes the initial, 8-hour training, as well as the subsequent yearly in-service training.
You also are certified to teach the curriculum to other ABLE-certified agencies as part of the ABLE Pay It Forward program. Pay It Forward arrangements must be coordinated by the ABLE team.
To prevent dilution of the ABLE instructional design, only the ABLE Project certifies ABLE instructors. Your certification does not allow you to certify others as ABLE instructors.
How many officers can I include in my ABLE class?
The basic 8-hour ABLE class is designed for 25 participants and 2 instructors, although fewer students is certainly authorized if you are looking to create a more intimate setting. We recommend, wherever possible, including officers of varied ranks and assignments in each class. Our instructors report that this helps facilitate conversation and provides officers an opportunity to practice intervening across rank. If the size or structure of your agency requires larger classes, you should contact the ABLE staff so we can help you achieve your goals without harming the instructional design of the ABLE program.
Is the basic 8-hour ABLE course designed to be taught by 1 or 2 instructors?
The basic 8-hour ABLE class is designed for 25 participants and 2 instructors, although more instructors are authorized if you are looking to provide a more hands-on experience. Beyond the two primary instructors, both of whom must be certified to teach ABLE, additional personnel who may participate to supplement the core training need not be certified. For example, it would not violate your commitment to ABLE if you included your agency’s psychologist or health and wellness expert in the training to answer questions as they arise.
What does it mean to incorporate the principles of active bystandership into other courses?
The ABLE Standards require that the principles of active bystandership be incorporated into relevant recruit and in-service courses, including, among others, Use of Force, Stop/Search/Arrest, Report Writing, Traffic Stops, and Vehicle Pursuits. Incorporating active bystandership into these courses helps reinforce the principles of the ABLE training and provides meaningful opportunities for officers to practice the skills of peer intervention. This is primarily accomplished via scenario-based exercises demonstrating the application of active bystandership principles in situations officers may encounter in the course of their duties. The ABLE Project is working on curriculum units that agencies can incorporate into other classes as appropriate.
Will ABLE provide the curriculum for yearly in-service training?
Yes, the ABLE Project will provide curriculum for the required 2-hour yearly in-service training. Our team is currently building out a curriculum library emphasizing various elements of the program, including health and wellness, use of force, and accountability, among others. Agencies may select from among these courses to fulfill the in-service training requirement. Agencies wishing to request courses covering particular topics may contact ABLE Project Director Lisa A. Kurtz at Lisa.Kurtz@georgetown.edu.
Can I tailor the curriculum for my agency?
The ABLE curriculum has been carefully designed by a team of instructional experts for maximum learning impact. We do not allow material changes to the content or delivery of the curriculum. However, if your agency wishes to use custom videos or other agency-specific content, please contact the ABLE Team, and we will work with you to determine the best approach.
Does the course really need to be a full day?
The initial training course consists of 7.5 hours of active instructional time, exclusive of breaks. We recommend allocating 9 hours to provide two 15-minute breaks and a one-hour lunch. The entire course must be taught as designed; however, we are currently developing a curriculum that will allow for two 4-hour sessions that can be delivered on consecutive days.
I’m in a pinch. Can a non-ABLE-certified instructor fill in for me?
No. Only instructors who have successfully completed our Train-the-Trainer program are authorized to teach the ABLE curriculum. The course material requires a deep familiarity with, and understanding of, the theory and practice underlying active bystandership. To prevent dilution of the ABLE instructional design, only the ABLE Project certifies ABLE instructors. If additional instructors in your agency wish to be certified, please contact the ABLE team to inquire about future Train-the-Trainer availability.
I’m an independent trainer/consultant/facilitator. Can I use the ABLE materials in my own training?
No. The ABLE materials are only available to agencies that have committed to the 10 ABLE Standards and have certified instructors via the ABLE Train-the-Trainer. program The ABLE Project provides these materials free of charge in order to make high-quality active bystandership training available to any agency willing to commit to implementing the program with fidelity. Any unauthorized use of the ABLE materials constitutes a copyright and/or trademark violation.
I have feedback about the curriculum. Who should I contact?
We welcome instructor feedback, suggestions, and ideas. Please direct any comments or questions to ABLE Project Director Lisa A. Kurtz at Lisa.Kurtz@georgetown.edu.