ABLE InterventionActive Bystandership for Law EnforcementBy Chief Scott Fraser, Brockville Police ServiceAsa police leader, are you interested in reducing mistakes, preventing misconduct, and promoting wellness within your organization? I think all police leaders would answer “yes” to this question. If so, you have just recited the three pillars on which Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) is based.The ABLE project, located at Georgetown University in Washington, is a spin-off of the EPIC program designed and developed for the New Orleans Police Department. The philosophy is simple: let’s change the culture of policing and empower people to intervene. We need only look to cases such as George Floyd’s murder and ask, “Why didn’t anyone intervene?” Intervention can be done easily and effectively, but we need to train our people on how to do it and how to accept it.The ABLE program was developed to provide insight, knowledge, and understanding of the mechanics of intervention, which includes the actual intervention itself and the barriers which prohibit intervention. It provides participants with the knowledge, skills, and ability to identify a situation and intervene effectively. One might ask, “Why is ABLE being introduced now?” The simple answer is, change in policing is needed. We have many successes daily in policing, but it only takes one mistake or case of misconduct to erase all the good things being done by our officers. ABLE builds off of the EPIC program and provides the background to enable a cultural change in policing.THERE ARE TIMES IT IS IMPORTANT TO BE GUIDED BY MORE EXPERIENCED OFFICERS AND SUPERVISORS; ABLE PROVIDES THE TOOLS WHEN THIS IS IN CONFLICT.Tools for InterventionThe ABLE program begins with an introduction and quickly leads to three case studies involving law enforcement. The case studies are the core of the program as they provide a reality-based scenario which officers can relate to. The case studies are factual and occurred within North America. These case studies allow officers to insert themselves and look internally as to how they may have been prevented or what could have been done differently. All three case studies relate to the three pillars of reducing mistakes, preventing misconduct, and promoting health and wellness. Class participants will continually be drawn back to the case studies in all aspects of the day’s training.The training also explores other careers in which a hierarchical system is utilized and tools for intervention have been developed. The airline industry was a leader in this area, providing an intervention technique to prevent air incidents/accidents. This training was introduced after a number of incidents relating to the pilot/co-pilot relationship. Pilots are now trained to intervene when it is required to prevent an incident or accident.The hospital setting is also explored after numerous errors had been made in operating rooms. Policing is no different; if mistakes are made, lives are at risk! The wheel did not have to be recreated for policing as it existed elsewhere. However, ABLE puts it into context for the policing environment.In support of the case studies, the ABLE program explores four experiments that were conducted in order to assist researchers in answering questions such as:• Does group size have an impact on intervention?• Will people follow authority even if it involves inflicting harm?• Does being in a hurry reduce the ability to intervene?Instructors will take a deeper dive into the experiments and dissect the behaviours observed and details of the results achieved. The experiments are specific to intervention and the barriers to intervene. This provides insight for participants to have an understanding of human behaviour and the tools to overcome the reluctance to intervene. More importantly, the experiments are tied back to the case studies introduced earlier in the program and provide context as to why people may not intervene. It is important to note that the case studies all could have had very different outcomes if the intervention had occurred. The case studies are examples of scenarios frequently observed in law enforcement, in which properly trained peers, supervisors, or colleagues could have altered the outcome.At this point, class participants have completed the case studies and the experiments and are beginning to understand the principles of intervention. Classes are inclusive and, despite being delivered online over Zoom due to the pandemic, incorporate participation. Students are encouraged to volunteer early on in the training but will be called upon if they are reluctant to be included. The program is designed to ensure participants look internally and externally and takes a professional approach to ensure everyone is included.Notice, Decide, and ActIntervention is a difficult topic for participants to discuss as it directly conflicts with our initial police training. Looking to our senior officers to encourage and direct us, never doubting the command of our supervisors, and doing what we are told can be barriers to intervention. The manner in which we were taught 30 years ago is the catalyst for the ABLE program. Many will remember when they left the academy and a senior officer told them, “Forget everything you learned. We will show you what you need to know here on the street.” There are times it is important to be guided by more experienced officers and supervisors; ABLE provides the tools when this is in conflict.The program strategically provides intervention tools for participants throughout the course. The principle of “Notice, Decide, and Act” is key: noticing when intervention is required, deciding when to intervene and then acting in order to reduce mistakes and prevent misconduct. Is it a simple task of physically intervening, or does it require a tough conversation with a colleague later? Participants will have the tools to assist them in dealing with either situation. It should be noted that ABLE is not established for internal affairs or discipline. It is designed to protect people who have been trained to intervene.The program also takes participants through an examination of the emotional brain. This portion expands on our previous training relating to auditory exclusion, breathing techniques, and includes the amygdala hijack (flight, fight, or freeze). It is important that participants have an understanding of this process, as it often explains a person’s failure to act. Equally important, police officers must understand when they are falling into the amygdala hijack and how they can overcome it. Understanding health and wellness is also important for participants. The program’s third pillar of promoting health and wellness identifies when and how to have that difficult conversation with a colleague prior to an issue arising. Early intervention at this stage may be key in preventing a mistake or an act of misconduct.In order to be accepted into the ABLE program, organizations are required to make an application. This process includes obtaining letters from the municipality, the police services board, and organizations within the community, which must include groups that are advocating for changes in policing. It is important that these groups are aware of the change ABLE can bring, and their support is encouraged.Applicants will also demonstrate their organization’s ability to introduce or incorporate an employee wellness plan. Most organizations already have these systems in place, and ABLE will validate this during the application process. Ensuring policy is established, and protections for those who intervene are also key in the ABLE application process. An organization accepted into the ABLE training program may be asked to submit officers for the trainthe-trainer program. If the size of the service prohibits internal instructors, the ABLE program may be able to assist on a case-by-case basis, dependent on the availability of instructors.I do not profess to be an expert in Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement. In my opinion, ABLE is an evolving and ongoing process that will assist in changing our policing culture. This article represents a fraction of what participants will learn during the day. This training will challenge participants and encourage them to make a difference. I congratulate the team at Georgetown University for the development of this program and the opportunities it presents.If you would like more information on the ABLE program, please reach out to me or visit https:// active-bystandership-for-law-enforcement/ for more details.Scott Fraser is Chief of Police of the Brockville Police Service. He can be reached at
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