Point Park police department joins ABLE Project

Partnership aims to train officers in peer intervention

Written By Zack Lawry, Co-News Editor

Point Park’s Police Department has been accepted into the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project, a program designed to train officers to intervene if a fellow officer is violating protocol.


“The Point Park University Police Department is recognized as an innovative and proactive agency in our region, and we seek to employ sound police practices and policies in everything we do,” said Chief of Police Jeffrey Besong.


According to a press release from Marketing and Public Relations Managing Director Lou Corsaro, the ABLE Project, sponsored by Georgetown University’s Law Center, is a “national training and support initiative for law enforcement agencies” that strives to build “a culture of peer intervention that prevents harm.”  


The Project’s official website provides background on the reasoning behind the initiative as a means of stopping and preventing the usage of excessive force and other harmful practices that have been observed in police.


“Years of academic research and on-the-ground experience has shown us that effective active bystandership can be taught. The Center for Innovations in Community Safety, partnering with global law firm Sheppard Mullin, has created the ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement) Project to prepare officers to successfully intervene to prevent harm and to create a law enforcement culture that supports peer intervention,” the site says.


According to Chief Besong, ABLE “gives officers the tools they need to overcome the powerful inhibitors to intervene in one another’s actions.” 


Additionally, he explained how Point Park’s involvement in the ABLE Project will affect policing practices on and around campus.


“We have had policies in place for years that require officers to intervene when necessary, and I believe ABLE will better equip our officers to do just that – taking decisive action when necessary to protect our community and our officers,” Besong said. “Our goal is to teach our police officers to do a better job intervening when necessary to prevent their colleagues from causing harm or making costly mistakes.”


In 2020, large protests broke out across the United States in response to police brutality, specifically after a video posted to social media showed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin using excessive force that resulted in the death of George Floyd.


Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd and sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison in June 2021.


The ABLE Project was launched “in the wake of Floyd’s killing and nationwide protests,” with the Project’s website explaining the necessity for training and support for law enforcement agencies and responders through the Project.  


“Four years ago, the Minneapolis Police Department added a ‘duty to intervene’ policy to the books” the Project’s official website states. “But, when Officer Derek Chauvin planted his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, three other officers did nothing to stop him.”


The ABLE Project’s launch came as a response to a tragic event, and while it was too late to save the life of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality, those involved with the project are hopeful that the training provided by ABLE can help prevent future police incidents.


“What we know is that people do not always intervene when they should, and they may spend the rest of their lives regretting it,” said Georgetown Law Professor Christy Lopez when the ABLE was first founded. “If you want police to intervene, you have to teach them how, and you have to create a culture that supports intervention.”


Although policing initiatives remain a controversial topic, efforts made to improve policing have not gone unnoticed by the public, including Point Park students like first-year screenwriting major Dawson White.


“I’m glad to see Point Park police doing the program proactively. It shows a willingness to truly learn and understand unlike other departments that just do these kinds of programs after an issue has already occurred,” White said. 


White is glad that the university’s police department has elected to join the ABLE Project and promotes improving intervention training before tragedy strikes on campus. 


Chief Besong expressed pride in the department’s reputation over the last decade.


“Since we started the police department in 2011, we have not had any incidents regarding police officer misconduct, use of force complaints or any bias policing complaints,” Besong said. “I am very proud of our department and how our officers perform their duties under very difficult situations. This is why we constantly train our officers on how to do their job in a professional manner.”


University President Don Green shared this sentiment, praising Besong’s work with and leadership of the department.


“Under Jeff’s leadership, our police department has been proactive in its efforts to become a model for University police departments across the state,” Green said. “We were among the first police departments in Pennsylvania to equip our officers with body-worn cameras. Our offices [sic] have a responsibility to serve all citizens of our community, and I support any effort to continue improving our established culture of professional conduct, education and accountability.”


According to the initial release from Corsaro, the effects of the ABLE Project have already begun to be felt at Point Park, as both “[Chief] Besong and Nicholas Black, Deputy Police Chief, are now certified ABLE instructors and will be able [to] train all officers in their department.”