Aurora Police Department looking to bystander training for its officers

Most officers to have new training by 2022
aurora police bystander training.jpg
Posted at 11:30 PM, Jul 28, 2021

AURORA, Colo. --- Leadership in the Aurora Police Department has admitted the agency has a strained relationship with the community. Body camera video released on Tuesday didn't help.

The video shows Aurora police officer John Haubert pistol-whipping and choking suspect Kyle Vinson. Officer Francine Martinez is accused of watching the ordeal and doing nothing. Both officers face charges in the case.

During a Tuesday press briefing, Chief Vanessa Wilson said she hoped transparency and new training would help repair the department's strained relationship with the community.

"We need to make sure that our officers have the tools to know exactly what to do in this situation, so we are focusing on deescalation training. We're also bringing ABLE training to it," Wilson said.

ABLE stands for Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement. The ABLE Project was launched last year and is offered through Georgetown Law School.

Preventing misconduct, avoiding police mistakes and promoting officer health and wellness are listed as the program's core values.

"The ABLE program is designed to prepare officers to to be able to intervene in difficult situations," Aurora Deputy Chief Darin Parker said.

Denver7 spoke exclusively to the agency about the new program being rolled out to its officers.

So far, 12 Aurora police officers have studied and learned the curriculum. Those officers include a lieutenant, a sergeant and others assigned to either patrol, SWAT, recruiting or investigations.

The 12 ABLE-trained officers will teach the bystander training to the rest of the department.The goal is for most Aurora officers to have received the training by early 2022.

"Over a year ago, we we added accountability to duty, honor and integrity as one of our core values. And we believe that that accountability should not always just come from the chief's office on down. It should be throughout the organization," Parker said. "We're trying to develop a culture of accountability throughout the organization. We felt it was important for this training to be conducted by officers to our officers."

Parker said he acknowledges that the department faces an uphill battle in restoring community trust.

"There's no doubt that the reputation of the Aurora Police Department has suffered in the past year, 18 months, and that's due to the acts of individual members. We understand that, even though we find that frustrating, the community doesn't always understand that. So, my hope for the police department is that we can provide to our officers and to our non-sworn members all the necessary training and all the necessary resources for them to be able to do their job, do it efficiently, do it with confidence and with pride," he said. "Have that same pride in each other and themselves that I have. If we can do that, I think that we can improve the trust that the community has in our organization."

Those who lead the ABLE Project said they've seen positive strides in departments where officers have been ABLE trained.

"What the ABLE training is really about is acknowledging that all police officers are humans, that they're going to make mistakes, they're going to mess up, but their obligation to each other is to prevent each other from making mistakes, from committing misconduct or from going down the path of serious mental health issues," said Lisa Kurtz, ABLE Project director.

In most cases, the training is free. The curriculum uses real life case studies to help officers learn what to do when their job is put to the test.

"These case studies are things that all of our officers can relate to, [for example] so the one about preventing misconduct is about an officer who's being antagonized by a subject, no one steps in to help her or to ameliorate the situation in any way. She ends up using excessive force against that subject." Kurtz said.

"There are 138 ABLE agencies across 36 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. Those agencies include more than 100,000 officers who either have been or will be trained in ABLE," she said. "Those agencies serve 61 million community members across North America."