Police misconduct has been under the spotlight following videos surfacing over the years that show officers using excessive force while their fellow officers seemingly allow it. Teaching officers to intervene when they see other officers violating policies is the goal of Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE), a project developed by Georgetown University Law Center.
Supported by the federal Department of Justice, ABLE training has been adopted by over 354 law enforcement agencies across the country and is now being practiced by the Hollister Police Department.
“The program is intended,” said Hollister Police Sergeant Bo Leland, “to empower everybody in the department to intercede and intervene in the event that someone was doing something that was either unsafe or immoral or illegal, regardless of their rank or position.”
The ABLE program was launched in 2021 as an outgrowth of Ethical Policing Is Courageous, a peer intervention program developed in 2014 by the New Orleans Police Department. The program is still recent enough that Berkeley’s Police Accountability Board was unaware of it when contacted by BenitoLink. The board is made up of nine civilian residents that were nominated and approved by the Berkeley City Council. It reviews the police’s policies, procedures, practices and complaints made against officers.
BenitoLink also reached out to the Coalition for Police Accountability in Oakland for comment on ABLE but did not receive a response.
According to the Law Center website, ABLE training is provided at no cost to law enforcement agencies on the condition that they commit to creating “a culture of active bystandership and peer intervention through policy, training, support and accountability.”
Sergeant Eduardo Solis was one of the officers who undertook the training in order to teach the program to the department.
“Because of human nature, we have these natural inhibitors that keep us from sometimes speaking up,” said Solis. “I think everyone within society faces some of these inhibitors, but it’s a lot more evident in law enforcement or any type of career where you have that kind of hierarchy.”
The point of the program, Solis said, is to create a culture within the department to be able to overcome those inhibitions and confront fellow officers directly when they act in an inappropriate manner, whether intentionally or accidentally.
“We want to be able to step in,” he said, “and to be able to point to some type of wrongdoing before it becomes something criminal or before anyone gets hurt, whether it’s the officer, a community member or anyone else involved in the interaction.”
As part of the training, police department employees are taught how to directly confront officers undertaking any kind of misconduct and to try to defuse potentially violent situations. It also encourages them to report misconduct internally if it is not resolved between the officers or reaches the standard of serious misconduct.
“The whole idea,” Leland said, “is that we can intervene before something becomes a legal issue, just before any illegal act.”
According to Solis, officers felt the training was useful and that it was a good beginning to resolving the serious problem of how people negatively perceive the police.
“We are taking the steps that society so much wants us to take,” Solis said. “If this is the perspective that people have of us, we want to change that culture within the department to show we are not going to tolerate this type of wrongdoing.”
According to Leland, all 57 employees of the department, from file clerks to Police Chief Carlos Reynoso, have received the training. He said he thought it had the biggest impact on the civilian ranks, such as office staff.
“There’s always been the feeling from the civilian employees that they are somehow lower on the food chain than our sworn employees,” Leland said. “That’s never been the case, and this reinforces that for them and makes them feel more empowered.”
There are already existing protocols in the department for internal investigations and for looking into civilian complaints regarding officers, and Leland said the move to institute the training did not reflect an existing situation within the department that needed to be immediately addressed.
“I don’t want to give the impression that we have some sort of big huge problem with illegal, unsafe actions,” he said. “We’re just trying to get ahead of the curve and stay as cutting edge as we can to benefit the public. We want to show the residents of Hollister that we are committed to doing everything we can to be the best force we can be.”
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