Police Departments Across Country Embrace Active Bystandership to Prevent Harm

September 29, 2020

WASHINGTON – Amidst high demand, Georgetown University Law Center’s Innovative Policing Program has selected the first 34 agencies to join the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project, a national training and support initiative focused on U.S. law enforcement agencies committed to building a culture of peer intervention that prevents harm.

Backed by prominent civil rights and law enforcement leaders, the evidence-based ABLE Project was developed by Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Program in collaboration with global law firm Sheppard Mullin, pioneering active bystandership scholar Ervin Staub, and a host of other experts to provide law enforcement officers and agencies with practical active bystandership strategies and tactics to prevent misconduct, reduce officer mistakes, and promote health and wellness. Building upon decades of research and on-the-ground testing, ABLE ensures officers have both the training and the supportive institutional culture they need to overcome the powerful inhibitors individuals face when called upon to intervene in actions taken by their peers.

“The ABLE Project was created to ensure every police officer in the United States has the opportunity to receive meaningful, effective active bystandership training while helping law enforcement agencies transform their approach to policing,” said Professor Christy Lopez, co-director of Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Program, which runs ABLE. “Having duty-to-intervene policies on the books isn’t enough. Building a police culture that supports and sustains the successful use of proven peer intervention strategies is key to preventing harm.”

To be accepted into the ABLE Project, agencies must commit to 10 ABLE standards that demonstrate commitment to creating a culture of active bystandership, as well as support from local community groups and elected leaders. The first 34 agencies to be selected stretch across 21 states and Canada and include major city police departments in Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Philadelphia, and the statewide training academies for New Hampshire and Washington State.

Over the coming weeks, the ABLE Project train-the-trainer program will certify instructors at all 34 agencies. Then, over the coming months, these instructors will provide eight hours of evidence-based active bystandership training to every officer in their agencies while they take other required steps to build a culture that ensures that training will take hold.

New partnerships expand ABLE Project’s national reach

Hundreds of agencies across the country have expressed interest in participating in ABLE to date, and new applications will be considered on a rolling basis when submitted through the ABLE website with the accompanying letters of support. This additional training is made possible in part by significant new financial support from two major corporations: Mastercard and Verizon.

Mastercard announced in June that police reform and criminal justice reform are key to its In Solidarity initiative combating systemic racism and advancing equal opportunity for all, and Verizon has advocated for reform of the criminal legal system for nearly two years, focusing on a variety of issues.

Sheppard Mullin partner Jonathan Aronie, who chairs the ABLE Project Board of Advisors, said the business community has an important role to play in social change.

“Corporations can be active bystanders or passive bystanders just as individuals can,” Aronie said. “I’m hopeful Mastercard’s and Verizon’s commitment to social justice and practical, evidence-based solutions will encourage other corporations to join the ABLE Project on this transformational journey. The more support we have, the more training we can provide.”

The ABLE Project is guided by its Board of Advisors comprised of civil rights, social justice, and law enforcement leaders, including Vanita Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Commissioner Michael Harrison of the Baltimore Police Department; Commissioner Danielle Outlaw of the Philadelphia Police Department; Ervin Staub, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the founder of the Psychology of Peace and Justice Project; and an impressive collection of additional police leaders, rank and file officers, and social justice leaders.

“If there were ever a time that a large-scale overhaul of dated and archaic law enforcement paradigms was needed, now is that time,” Commissioner Outlaw said. “And I believe that ABLE will assist in such a paradigm shift for agencies that adopt and embrace its core tenets.”

The full list of agencies selected for the ABLE Project’s national rollout include:

Alexandria Virginia Sheriff’s Office (Va.), Allentown Pennsylvania Police Department (Pa.), Auburn Police Department (Wash.), Baltimore Police Department (Md.), BNSF Railway Police (national), Boston Police Department (Mass.), Burlington Police Department (N.C), City of Henderson Police Department (Nev.), Clearwater Police Department (Fla.), Clemson University Police Department (S.C.), Cleveland Division of Police (Ohio), Concord Police Department (N.C), Dearborn Police Department (Mich.), Denton Police Department (Texas), Denver Police Department (Colo.), Everett Police Department (Wash.), Glenn Heights Police Department (Texas), Georgetown Law Campus Police Department (D.C.), Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (Ohio), Huntington Police Department (W.Va.), Irving Police Department (Texas), Lethbridge Police Service (Alberta, Canada), Muscatine Police Department (Iowa), New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council, Philadelphia Police Department (Pa.), Rockwall Police Department (Texas), South Portland Police Department (Maine), Temple Terrace Police Department (Fla.), Topeka Police Department (Kan.), University of Louisiana at Monroe, Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, Westminster Police Department (Md.), Wilmington Police Department (N.C.), Yonkers Police Department (N.Y.).

For more information about active bystandership and the ABLE Project see these news stories and visit the ABLE Project’s website.

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