116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — When Iowa City police Officer Matthew Young watched footage depicting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, he started asking himself how he would have handled that situation.
Now, Young is part of an effort to encourage active intervention by police officers — not only in criminal acts or instances of excessive force, but when they see a fellow officer struggling personally.
“When you see something that’s not right … you need to step in and take some kind of action,” said Young. “It’s teaching us to take a more proactive role and not just sit back and watch something happen.”
Young and fellow Iowa City police Officer Kristie Davis trained colleagues last week in ABLE — Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement. The training was created through a partnership between The Georgetown Innovative Policing Program at Georgetown University in partnership with global law firm Sheppard Mullin. Davis and Young received instruction earlier this year in order to train their colleagues at the police department.
Young said the training — which involves analyzing actual cases in which law enforcement failed to intervene, studying statistics and role play — reinforces the need to intervene not only in situations that arise on the street, but before an officer’s conduct ever becomes an issue. The program trains officers to recognize that stressors in and out of work can affect an officer’s ability to do the job effectively. Every Iowa City police officer was to receive the eight-hour training this past week.
“This is a refresher for these officers to remind us that we are there for each other, we’re loyal to each other,” he said. “It also reminds us that we could be saving a life. The officer’s life. A member of the public.”
Last year, Johnson County law enforcement leaders signed a memorandum of understanding requiring officers to intervene if they see an unreasonable use of force by another law enforcement officer. Iowa City Police Capt. Denise Brotherton — who as interim chief pursued the ABLE training opportunity for the department — said that action really focused only on use of excessive force.
“This goes beyond that,” Brotherton said. “A lot of times, those bad decisions, those things that may happen on the street are the result of things compiling in the officer’s life. We need healthy officers out on the street so they’re making good decisions.”
Brotherton learned about the training at the Iowa Summit on Justice & Disparities, which was held virtually last October. There, members of the Iowa chapter of the NAACP spoke highly of the free training, Brotherton said. The FBI National Academy Associates, a nonprofit dedicated to providing law enforcement with training and education, also supports the program, said Brotherton.
However, the police department couldn’t just sign up and go. Brotherton said Young and Davis both had to be vetted and the department needed letters of support from community partners. Iowa City received letters from the NAACP and Nisaa African Family Services. Brotherton and City Manager Geoff Fruin also wrote letters supporting the department’s application.
“We want to make sure everybody on the department has the confidence and the tools they need to be able to quickly and safely intervene,” Fruin told The Gazette.
Fruin credited the “holistic” nature of the ABLE training and said those in all professions can appreciate how external stressors can have an impact on performance.
“If our officers see a fellow co-worker that may be showing those signs of stress or anxiety, they have the tools to be able to step in and engage them in conversation,” he said. “So when they’re out there performing their duties, they’re at the top of their game.”
Other departments in the state and county also are pursuing ABLE training. North Liberty Police Chief Diana Venenga said all North Liberty officers will be trained in ABLE next month.
At a time of intense law enforcement scrutiny, Young said the training shows a continued commitment by the police department to serve the public to the best of their ability.
“We want the public to know that we hear you,” he said. “We know there are issues right now and certain people are not happy with law enforcement. We hear those concerns. We’re trying to make ourselves better.”
Added Young, “We’re not going anywhere, either. We’re going to continue being police. We’re going to continue doing our job. And we’re going to continue doing it the right way.”
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