Sarasota Police Department adding new program to its officer training

Police departments nationwide have focused more on officer misconduct in the last three years. 

As a result, the Sarasota Police Department will add a new program to its officer training beginning August 29.

Police officers always emphasize "see something, say something," and some agencies ensure officers do the same for their behavior.

Doing the right thing is learned early on in police officer’s training, but Sarasota Police Capt. Kenneth Rainey said that sometimes there are barriers.

"That conflicts with what can traditionally be viewed as the hierarchal police culture where tenure and rank come into play. It kind of muddies the water a little bit where junior officers may defer to a tenured officer or a senior ranking officer," said Capt. Rainey of the professional standards division at the Sarasota Police Department.

Rainey said that's why the department is implementing the Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement or ABLE program.

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"If it's from a low-level misconduct to high-level problematic use of force, the officer is expected and empowered and protected to intervene," said Rainey.

One of the most recent examples of officers not stepping in was the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd's neck, suffocating him.

Soon after his murder, Georgetown University Law Center's ABLE program took off, training hundreds of agencies in 41 states.

"I think the most validating thing is always when you have the veteran officers who sometimes come in saying, 'Oh gosh, you know, another training or teaching us something that we all know we should be doing anyway,' who then leave the training at the end of the day going, 'Wow, I wish I had had this when I started my career, you know, 20 years ago, 30 years ago,'" said Lisa A. Kurtz, the director of Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE), which is based at the Center for Innovations in Community Safety at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Kurtz said their training teaches why intervening is not easy and shows the skills to stop harmful behavior.

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"I think officers already have this sense of being responsible for the welfare of others. And so what we're doing is saying, okay, we're going to take that and we're going to extend that obligation to also being responsible for the actions of the officers around you," said Kurtz.

"It's just as important that there is an agency culture that supports those officers, so they feel confident in intervening and know that they'll be supported when they do."

Sarasota police said they are committed to community relationships and have support from the Sarasota NAACP and Light of the World Church.

"It's just ensuring that the citizens of the city of Sarasota get the most professional product from our officers," said Rainey.

The Sarasota Police Department will be one of just six agencies in the state that use the able program. They join Clearwater police, Temple Terrace police and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office in the Tampa Bay region.

The Sarasota Police Department has set a goal to finish training all its officers by the first quarter of 2024. Rainey said they look to do it yearly and use real-world scenarios to check officer responses.