During its meeting on Wednesday, Dallas city council members unanimously approved a program that would help teach Dallas police officers how to better police themselves.
The Active Bystandership in Law Enforcement program, called ABLE, will be run through the University of North Texas at Dallas’ Caruth Police Institute. It trains officers how and when to intervene during potentially troublesome interactions with the public.
"We know now more than ever police are working hard to recognize that first responders must do a better job in intervening when necessary to prevent their colleagues from causing harm,” said BJ Wagner, Executive Director of the Caruth Police Institute.
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There was plenty of discussion during Wednesday's meeting between council members, police and the assistant city manager, with many showing support for the program and voicing their plea to change systemic issues within police culture.
"There's a lot of folks wanting to know what's going on with DPD right now and I think just the more transparency we can provide the community, the better," said District 1 Councilman Chad West.
According to the agreement, training will start in February and run until 2024 at a capped cost of $300,000 paid for by the city's general fund. City council said this is not new money being spent because the city budget approved in October will be amended to include that cost.
"This is a very exciting program. it represents a significant step toward our implementation of real change," said Dallas Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune. "If we're able to achieve this within the timeframe established, we'll be the first city in Texas to implement this program. It's an important part of our overall strategy to change the culture in the police department."
“I’m really hoping in the long term we can get to really having educational specialists teaching our recruits and our officers as opposed to cops teaching cops because that’s how the culture was put in place in the first place,” Councilman Lee Kleinman said.
Assistant Dallas Police Chief Angela Shaw supported Kleinman’s remarks about culture and greater academic influence.
“We want this program to be successful and we want to bring change to the department. If we didn't want that, we wouldn't be here today. So, we truly want that. We agree with you 100%,” Shaw said.
The ABLE program will teach officers in the Dallas Police Department how to intervene successfully to prevent police misconduct, to prevent mistakes from officers, and to prevent harm to another officer when it is believed that they are struggling with their own healthcare, regardless of rank, according to Wagner.
“And if we can teach our officers to recognize when misconduct or a mistake is happening, and intervene successfully, and then protect the officer who intervened, then we can drastically reduce misconduct mistakes and harm across the communities,” Wagner said.
Wagner noted that the structure of a police force is one that requires “critical loyalty to one another." But a problem that can arise in that kind of environment, Wagner said, is that a junior officer may be less likely to tell a senior officer that they believe what they are observing is not right.
Wagner indicated that other, similar lines of work, including the airline industry and medical professionals who work in surgical settings, have also benefited from training like the ABLE program.
Dallas Police Association Union President Mike Mata said more than twice as many internal affairs complaints come from inside the department compared with outside, suggesting the department is already doing a good job of policing itself.
Now, officers will receive more training on how to do so.
City officials said progress on training all 3,000 Dallas officers will be posted online so residents can keep track.