After talking about Black man, cops showed picture of ape at training seminar, state says
The report paints a critical portrait of the training and comes at a time of increased scrutiny on law enforcement after high-profile civilian deaths while in police custody.
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A police training seminar in New Jersey included instructors making lewd comments about women, encouraging officers to pull people over for no reason and showing a photo of an ape after talking about pulling over a 75-year-old Black man, according to a new report from the state comptroller.
The six-day seminar in October 2021 was conducted by a New Jersey-based law enforcement training company called Street Cop, a privately run firm that bills itself as one of the largest in the country, according to the 43-page report. Some 1,000 officers from around the country, including about 240 from New Jersey, attended the seminar, primarily funded by taxpayers, the comptroller found.
The report paints a critical portrait of the training and comes at a time of increased scrutiny on law enforcement after high-profile civilian deaths while in police custody, including Tyre Nichols, George Floyd and others.
It also comes after nearly a decade of initiatives in the state aimed at overhauling police conduct and building trust in communities. Among the directives from the state attorney general have been requirements for training on cultural awareness and diversity, de-escalation and communications skills as well as an increased focus on professionalism.
Included in the report are videos from the seminar that show, according to the comptroller, over 100 discriminatory comments.
Instructors talked about their genitalia, according to the report. One trainer spoke of going on vacation surrounded by “girls that are not as wealthy and they need to do things to make money.” Another advised women in attendance to flirt with their partners because if they don’t, “God knows there are some whores who will.”
In another video, a trainer onstage discussed pulling over a 75-year-old Black man and showed a photograph of an ape. A speaker who was not a law enforcement official advocated for leveraging pain as a “weapon” during police work and celebrated savagery and “drinking out of the skulls of our enemies,” according to the report.
In still another video, a trainer talked about stopping drivers without cause and asking questions simply to develop a “baseline.” He went on to say: “Then when you ask somebody a question and he answers it just weird you’ll be so much better at picking up on it.”
That flouts clearly established law, the comptroller’s office said, because officers cannot stop someone on a “hunch.”
“They also cannot stop motorists when the sole reason is just to ask questions,” it said.
Kevin Walsh, the state’s acting comptroller, said his office turned up numerous examples of trainers promoting “wildly inappropriate” views and tactics and questioned the legality of some.
“The fact that the training undermined nearly a decade of police reforms — and New Jersey dollars paid for it — is outrageous,” Walsh said in a statement.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including calling on the Legislature to set up a licensing requirement for private police training programs. It urges the attorney general to oversee retraining of officials who attended the conference and encourages law enforcement agencies to seek a refund for the training.
Street Cop founder and CEO Dennis Benigno said in a statement that nothing in the report showed his company advocating for anything “inconsistent with quality policing.”
“Isolated excerpts taken out of context from a week-long training are not reflections of the overall quality of the education that Street Cop provides,” he said.
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said his office is still reviewing the report but the training appeared to be “deeply troubling, potentially unconstitutional, and certainly unacceptable.”
“The report’s findings are disturbing and not consistent with the State’s commitment to fair, just, and safe policing. I have formally referred the report to the Division on Civil Rights to take any and all appropriate steps,” Platkin said.
Along with New Jersey, the comptroller’s office found at least 46 states spent funds on Street Cop training. Among the agencies the comptroller found participating in the 2021 seminar were the state police and 77 municipal agencies. More than $75,000 in public funds was spent, the comptroller said, but that didn’t include paid time off or paid training days.
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