The Westminster Police Department has been accepted into a regional project designed to help law enforcement agencies improve intervention techniques and “change cultures” while also promoting officer wellness.
Westminster will participate in the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project, according to a Monday news release from the department.
The ABLE project is run by Georgetown University Law Center’s national training and support initiative for U.S. law enforcement agencies. According to the release, the ABLE project provides practical active bystandership strategies and tactics to law enforcement officers to prevent misconduct, reduce officer mistakes and promote health and wellness.
The Westminster Police Department joins a select group of 30 other law enforcement agencies and statewide and regional training academies chosen to participate in the ABLE project’s national rollout, according to the release.
Professor Christy Lopez, co-director of Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Program, said she believes active bystandership practice is important and every department should be working on it.
“It is teaching officers how to intervene. We are combining that training and trying to change cultures within the agency and redefine what officer loyalty is,” Lopez said. “(ABLE) is more than a training program it is transformative of the whole policing agency.”
In the coming months, all departmental officers will receive eight hours of evidence-based active bystandership training, designed not only to prevent harm, but to change the culture of policing, according to the release. The training is meant to be incorporated in other trainings that officers have to go through regularly.
The success of this program will be hard to measure, but if the training is working citizens would be unlikely to notice much of a change. If officers are intervening appropriately things will keep going smoothly, Lopez said. ABLE will also be working with researchers to do surveys of officers and use data to see how successful this project works as well.
Westminster Police Chief Thomas Ledwell said he isn’t aware of an instance when his officers failed to intervene but wants to be proactive regardless.
Ledwell said he likes that the project offers a component of health and wellness for officers and it was a “no-brainer” for him.
“Police officers deal with a lot of stress from dealing with incidents and when you have officers that are physically and mentally healthy, then they are more likely to deal with situations in a healthy manner,” Ledwell said.
Lopez said like this program will help officers be more comfortable talking to each other about mental health and the stresses of the job. Officers have higher rates of suicide and alcoholism than the rest of society, according to Lopez.
Ledwell is expecting this training to have a positive impact on the department. He is also hopeful it will help build trust with the community as the department shows it is open to improving.
Two members of the department will be sent to get trained by ABLE and then come back certified as ABLE instructors to train the rest of the officers.
Both the NAACP Carroll County Branch and St. Paul’s United Church of Christ of Westminster provided letters of support for the Westminster Police Department’s application to join the ABLE program, according to the release.
“ABLE training is one more tool that the senior leadership of the Westminster Police Department is providing its staff to further positive relationships with our community," Westminster Councilmember Tony Chiavacci is quoted as saying in the release, "and I commend them for doing so.”