DALLAS, Texas (The Dallas Weekly) — The Dallas Police Department has adopted a new training program designed to encourage officers to intervene in and speak up about the misconduct of fellow officers. It’s known as Active Bystandership in Law Enforcement, or “ABLE” for short.
Proponents believe it will help break down the “blue wall of silence,” the informal code among police officers to not report on a colleague’s errors, misconducts, or crimes, including police brutality.
The ABLE concept has grown in popularity in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin. It’s been adopted by over 70 law enforcement agencies across the country with the goal of encouraging peer intervention among officers to reduce incidents of misconduct.
But some critics aren’t so convinced.
Alec Karakatsanis, founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corps, a civil rights litigation nonprofit based in Washington D.C. dedicated to challenging systemic injustice in the American legal system, believes such programs are a waste of money, and primarily serve as a form of pro-police propaganda.
“This will do nothing,” Karakatsanis says. “It’s a waste of money and is propaganda. No one can point to a single ‘police training’ program that has a significant effect on police violence, not just because the programs are shams that don’t work, but because the vast bulk of police violence is perfectly legal, intended, and rewarded.”
Indeed, the data available on police shootings and brutality in general is widely understood to be woefully incomplete, and officers rarely face criminal charges.
Implicit in the logic of the ABLE program is that there are only a few bad apples in a given police department and that if officers are trained to intervene, those bad apples will be rooted out.
“98% of all officers are good officers,” said Dallas Police Sergeant Ira Carter during a briefing on the program. “It’s that 2% that we’ve got to get out of the uniform.”
The idea that 2% of officers are bad apples is likely rooted in the fact the rate of criminal charges being filed for police killings hasn’t exceeded 2 percent of cases for the past five years. But other estimates suggest that anywhere between 10% and 25% of officers are involved in acts of misconduct over the course of their career.
Critics like Karakatsanis argue that the focus on “good” and “bad” cops misses the forest for the trees.
“The ‘good cop’ rhetoric is designed to obscure massive investment in police,” Karakatsanis wrote in 2020 in Slate. “Many mainstream politicians see any injustice in the world as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ individuals making ‘good’ or ‘bad’ choices. But today’s protesters see injustice in the world and understand it as the result of political, economic, and racial structures that shape and constrain how all of us act.”
Instead of spending more money on training, Karakatsanis points to calls for “systematic divestment from police and prisons and investment in the material things that communities need to flourish.”
In Dallas, those calls were not heeded. Despite cutting $8 million from the police overtime budget in 2020, City Council ultimately approved an overall increase in the police budget.
At any rate, the cost of the program is a relatively small slice of the $500,000,000+ police budget that constitutes more than 30% of the total city budget. $300,000 will be spent on the ABLE program with the goal of training every police officer in the department.
Whether ABLE will work is hard to say. While proponents claim that the training is evidence-based, most also simultaneously acknowledge that measuring its effect on misconduct is difficult, if not impossible.
“It’s hard to quantify the impact because it’s preventative,” says Dallas Police Officer Kenny Dietrich.
While there is evidence that the skills taught in the training can be learned, it’s unclear how often they will be used. According to Sergeant Carter, some 80% of officers patrol solo, meaning that unless officers call for backup, there may not be a large number of opportunities for peer intervention when interacting with the public.
Regardless, Sergeant Carter believes that the training will have positive impacts. He concluded the presentation on ABLE with a personal anecdote of one of his earliest experiences in the department that illustrates a need for change in internal police culture.
After Carter got off a training shift one day, he left the southeast substation wearing civilian clothes. Within minutes, he was pulled over. “Four more squad cars parked across the street. All the officers got out and sat on their car hoods. The officer [who pulled me over] asked, ‘Boy, do you have a driver’s license?’” They proceeded to walk around the car, shining a flashlight inside, all the while refusing to tell then-Officer Carter why he had been pulled over. When they finally noticed his police uniform in the passenger seat, they left immediately.
When Carter reported the incident the next day, his complaint wasn’t received well.
“They made my life a living hell for the next eight years…This is why we got to have this training.”
Sergeant Carter failed to say whether those officers were still on the job.
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.