Northern Essex Community College Police Academy Moves Police Reform into Recruit Training

Recruits from the November 2019 Northern Essex Community College Police Academy graduation. (Courtesy photograph.)

Joshua Stokel of Portsmouth, N.H., a retired deputy chief of police, is director of the Northern Essex Community College Police Academy. (Courtesy photograph.)

All Northern Essex Community College Police Academy student officers will soon take part in police reform training aimed at helping them intervene if a fellow officer is involved in misconduct.

The college’s academy is the first municipal police academy and first community college in Massachusetts to be accepted into Georgetown University Law Center’s Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement Project, known as ABLE for short, a national training and support initiative committed to building a culture of peer intervention that prevents harm. The ABLE Project, created in 2020, provides an eight-hour national training module.

“We feel this training is important because, if we are going to see true progress in terms of police reform, it must start at the academy level,” said Joshua Stokel, director of the college’s police academy.

According to Stokel, ABLE is focused on three pillars: reducing mistakes, preventing misconduct and promoting health and wellness, saying, “They lay the groundwork for evolving dynamics associated with modern policing strategies.”

The college joins more than 300 other law enforcement agencies and statewide and regional training academies from across the country and in Canada in the ABLE Project, including the New Hampshire and Massachusetts State Police, Boston and Lawrence police departments and New Hampshire Police Academy.

The college academy is using instructors from the Lawrence Police Department to deliver the ABLE curriculum to all recruit classes.

According to the ABLE Project website, officers are trained in how to give an intervention, how to receive an intervention and how to follow up on the intervention to prevent future harm. It also ensures law enforcement officers learn strategies that are effective to avoid any biases in policing towards communities that are affected by prejudice and ineffective policing.

The Northern Essex Police Academy has graduated 11 classes since its inception in January of 2015. To date, more than 500 student officers have graduated from the academy, serving over 70 municipal police departments, eight colleges and universities, Massachusetts Port Authority, and the Somerville Housing Authority. The next class graduates this month and a new class starts in January.

Northern Essex manages the academy with guidance from an advisory board that includes police chiefs from Amesbury, Haverhill, Methuen, Lawrence and North Andover.

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