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Washington to teach all officers to ‘redefine loyalty’ when cops break rules

A police explosives unit walks in Cal Anderson park as police and city crews dismantle the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) area on July 1, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

As part of the curriculum at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, all incoming police officers will be taught “active bystandership.” The program is another way of addressing intervention in potentially problematic situations, explained Sue Rahr, former King County Sheriff and current head of the training commission.

“This program was created in New Orleans, I believe five or six years ago they began working on this, and this was one of the outcomes of the consent decree that they have been working with,” she told Seattle’s Morning News. “And something that the leadership in New Orleans recognized is there were things happening that could have been stopped if a fellow officer had intervened. I’m oversimplifying it a little bit, but that’s the big picture is how do we stop bad behavior as it’s beginning?”

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The program, called EPIC in New Orleans for “Epic Policing is Courageous,” was created with social scientists.

“The people that were involved in leading the consent decree and leaders in New Orleans PD felt so strongly about this program, they wanted to share it with the rest of the nation,” Rahr said. “So the program has been adopted by Georgetown University, … called Innovative Policing Initiatives, and that is the national platform for launching ABLE training, Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement.”

Washington state’s academy will be the first state in the nation to provide ABLE training to all incoming police officers. Rahr also hopes to expand it to officers who have already completed the academy.

“The thing that’s important about this program in particular, it’s predicated on redefining loyalty, and it redefines loyalty away from covering up for your partner. And it defines loyalty as saving your partner from ruining their career and damaging their relationship with the community,” she said.

The first trainer session will be at the end of September, and the program will hopefully be introduced to the recruit classes by the end of the year.

“One of the major findings in the research on this type of training is that you can ask any person, no matter what profession they’re in, if they would intervene if they saw a coworker doing something unethical. And most people say, ‘Oh, heck yes, I would step up and I would say something,'” Rahr said. “And at the time they make those statements, people believe it. But what really happens when you find yourself in the moment, it’s much harder to stand up and say something.”

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The research on this type of program started in the aviation industry with copilots not stepping in when the pilot was making an error.

“With the ABLE program, they talk about very specific steps and very specific skills and techniques that you can use to intervene,” Rahr said. “You’re not trying to think through what should I do when you’re in the situation, you think about that ahead of time. So if the incident happens, you already have a script in your head about what do I say, what do I do?”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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