420 – Active Bystandership For Law Enforcement (ABLE)

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  1. Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to provide guidelines regarding Active Bystandership and Peer Intervention as per this Harris County Sheriff’s Office Policy and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 2.1387. Intervention Required for Excessive Force; Report Required as well as Policy 501 – De-escalation and Response to Resistance.

  1. Policy

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is committed to providing a workplace where employees are empowered to intervene to prevent harm and to create a law enforcement culture that supports peer intervention.

III.      Definitions

ABLE –Georgetown Law’s initiative – Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) Project is a program designed to prepare officers to successfully intervene to prevent harm and to create a law enforcement culture that supports peer intervention.

ABLE Deputy Coordinator – Deputy who is responsible for leading the implementation of ABLE.  This Deputy is also the lead instructor.

Team Member / Bystander – Any individual who is employed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Intervention – The act of interfering with the outcome or course, especially of a condition or process.

Georgetown Law ABLE Standards – The HCSO has committed to follow the 10 ABLE standards from Georgetown Law which are Community Support, Meaningful Training, Dedicated Coordination, Program Awareness, Accountability, Officer Wellness, Reporting, Measuring Officer Perceptions, Follow-Through and “Paying it Forward”.

  1. Duty to Intervene

HCSO employees have a moral, ethical, and legal duty to intervene to prevent another employee from conduct that would unnecessarily harm others, violate the law, or violate HCSO policy. This duty applies to all employees regardless of job classification, title, or rank. Intervention is required where the bystander employee is a witness to an applicable situation and has a reasonable opportunity to prevent or mitigate harm caused by a fellow employee. Employees are also encouraged to intervene to assist colleagues in addressing health and wellness concerns, even where those concerns are not currently resulting in policy or legal violations. Employees should intervene in a manner to protect the safety of the community, their colleagues, and themselves to the greatest extent possible.

A. An HCSO Team Member has a duty to intervene to stop or prevent another team member from using force against a person suspected of committing an offense if:

1. The amount of force exceeds that which is reasonable under the circumstances; and

2.  The employee knows or should know that the other employee’s use of force:

  1. Violates state or federal law;
  • Puts a person at risk of bodily injury, as that term is defined by Section 1.07, Texas Penal Code, and is not immediately necessary to avoid imminent bodily injury to a peace officer or other person; and
  • Is not required to apprehend the person suspected of committing an offense.

B. An HCSO Team Member who witnesses the use of excessive force by any employee will promptly make a detailed report of the incident and deliver the report to the supervisor of the employee making the report.

[Texas S.B. No. 69, Art. 2.1387. Intervention Required for Excessive Force; Report Required.]

IV.      Training

The HCSO’s Behavior Health Training Unit offers practical strategies and tactics to maximize the effectiveness of interventions when they are necessary, and to ensure, where possible, interventions are handled safely, professionally, and respectfully. All employees will receive at least 8 hours of initial dedicated ABLE training and at least 2 hours of annual ABLE refresher training. Training will be conducted with complete fidelity to the Georgetown Law ABLE curriculum, and in a manner consistent with all ABLE program guidelines. ABLE training will be taught to classes of 25 or fewer employees (15 – 20 preferred) by two ABLE-certified instructors when applicable. The principles of active bystandership also will be incorporated into relevant academy courses, including but not limited to:  Use of Force, Arrest, Search and Seizure, Report Writing, Traffic Stops, Ethics, Vehicle Pursuits, and Field Training Officer training. Per the ABLE Program Standards, ABLE-certified instructors may be called upon to provide training to surrounding ABLE-certified law enforcement agencies.

V.       Training for ABLE Instructors

All future instructors for the ABLE program will be registered to attend the Train the Trainer course through the HCSO ABLE Deputy Coordinator. The ABLE Deputy Coordinator will review supplemental teaching materials, participate in supplemental training programs, and attend annual refresher training provided by the ABLE Project.  Instructors who are certified to instruct ABLE will coordinate with the ABLE Deputy Coordinator to teach across HCSO.  Georgetown Law is the only entity that certifies ABLE Instructors.

VI.      Deputy Program Leadership

The HCSO ABLE Program Deputy Coordinator is assigned to the Neighborhood Policing Division, Behavior Health Training Unit.  The ABLE Deputy Coordinator is responsible for leading the implementation of ABLE, including the roll out, promotion, and reinforcement of the program, and for playing an active role in embedding ABLE in the Agency’s organizational culture.  The Program Deputy Coordinator will provide guidance and assistance to employees as necessary.  The Program Deputy Coordinator also will work with Agency leadership to ensure the Agency is meeting the ABLE Program Standards.  The Program Deputy Coordinator will report program status (e.g., number of Deputies trained) to the ABLE Project, as requested.

VII.     Investigations

The Internal Affairs Division will review use of force incidents for potential missed opportunities to intervene during the use of force review process. The ABLE Deputy Coordinator should be notified when these instances are identified.

VIII.    Retaliation  

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office promotes and supports intervention to protect fellow employees and the community we serve. The department will not tolerate retaliation against any employee for exercising their duty to intervene.  A good faith intervention is considered a protected activity. This is part of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office commitment to providing a culture in which employees are free from harassment and retaliation of any kind. Acts of harassment and retaliation are forms of serious misconduct and will result in appropriate disciplinary action after thorough investigation.

IX.      Reporting   

ABLE is not meant to be a reporting program. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office adopts ABLE principles as the foundation of our organizational to help teach employees practical strategies and skills to effectively intervene in another employee’s conduct, regardless of rank, when necessary to prevent misconduct, reduce mistakes, and promote employee health and wellness. ABLE does not alter HCSO reporting policies. If an action was reportable pursuant to HCSO’s policy before the adoption of ABLE, it continues to be reportable following the adoption of ABLE. If an action was not reportable before ABLE, it did not become so after ABLE.


This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

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