At a police training seminar in Atlantic City, New Jersey, an instructor showed a photo of a monkey while telling attendees about his interaction with a 75-year-old black man, according to video. Another seemed to mock the LGBTQ community: “He or she, him, her, her, him” – whatever “you want to call people now.” Several instructors discussed the size of their genitals during classes glorifying violence.
And Dennis Benigno, the founder of Street Cop Training, which describes itself as the fastest-growing private police training company in the United States, told attendees he was looking forward to a vacation in Colombia surrounded by cocaine, “prostitutes” and poor girls who “You have to do things to make money.”
Nearly 1,000 police officers from across the country listened to Mr. Benigno and the other instructors during the six-day, $499 seminar hosted by Street Cop in October 2021, according to an investigation and video footage released Wednesday by Kevin D. Walsh of New Jersey. Acting Controller.
Taxpayer money footed much of the bill.
“We found numerous examples of instructors promoting opinions and tactics that were grossly inappropriate, offensive, discriminatory, harassing and, in some cases, possibly illegal,” Walsh said in a statement.
In a 43-page report, the comptroller’s office recommended that all New Jersey officers who attended the seminar be retrained and urged the state Legislature to create licensing rules for the growing number of training companies private, unregulated institutions that provide additional training for officers. ‘ careers.
Mr Walsh fought to gain access to records held by Street Cop for more than a year. The company argued that the monitor, appointed by the state’s Democratic governor, was politically motivated when he filed challenges in state and federal courts to try to block the release of the company’s financial documents and videos. Atlantic City seminary. The gathering was billed as the company’s first conference, with the participation of famous right-wing commentators and authors.
Instructors made more than 100 discriminatory comments, according to videos obtained by Mr. Walsh, during lectures celebrating violence and denigrating women and minorities. The trainers also offered participants a checklist of “reasonable suspicion factors” to use during traffic stops — advice that the comptroller’s office said was largely unconstitutional and, if used, could lead to the suppression of evidence.
Overall, Walsh said, the training threatened to undermine nearly a decade of policing initiatives focused on de-escalating tensions and building trust in vulnerable communities.
“The fact that the training undermined nearly a decade of police reform — and that New Jersey dollars funded it — is outrageous,” he said.
Private, unregulated police training like Street Cop is thriving in the United States. In New Jersey alone, at least 50 private police training companies offer in-person classes, and many more are promoting virtual classes, according to the report.
Street Cop claims to be one of the biggest of them all, and its reach extends beyond New Jersey.
The company estimates it trains between 25,000 and 30,000 officers nationwide each year, according to court records. In one month last year, it announced classes in Texas, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana and Colorado.
In total, public agencies in 46 states have provided “direct payment” to Street Cop Training since 2020, the comptroller’s office found.
Mr. Benigno, who could not immediately be reached for comment, is a former correctional officer who worked for 10 years as a police officer in Woodbridge, New Jersey, until 2015. He founded Street Cop Training in 2012.
Mr. Benigno’s lawyer, Jonathan F. Cohen, was not immediately available to discuss the report.
In a podcast, Mr. Benigno said his company was filling vital training gaps that he said were missing at most publicly funded police academies in the United States.
“For the most part, the academies were interesting, difficult, intimidating — and almost completely useless,” Mr. Benigno told Mike Simpson, the host of the “Mind of the Warrior” podcast, in July.
He said his company employs 50 instructors and is preparing to add 10 more.
“I think we have a real chance of improving police work through proper training,” he added.
Speaking to state investigators, Mr. Benigno stressed that “overall” the conference was “very informative” and “useful,” and he said his company had “nothing to hide.” according to the report.
Investigators concluded, however, that aspects of the conference that provided “appropriate training for police” were “completely overshadowed” by the numerous discriminatory and harassing comments.
Participants in Atlantic City included approximately 240 law enforcement officers from 77 New Jersey municipal police departments, six county agencies, the State Police and three other state agencies. Participants ranged from officers to police chiefs, but no one reported the troubling content of the training to their departments, according to the report.
Between 2019 and 2022, New Jersey police agencies spent at least $320,000 on Street Cop training, including about $75,000 to send officers to the six-day conference, according to the comptroller’s investigation.
Sexism and what the comptroller’s office calls a “warlike” approach abounded.
One speaker encouraged married female police officers in attendance to flirt with their spouses, because “God knows there are whores who will if you don’t.” Ralph Friedman, a former New York City police detective, described his involvement in 13 deadly force incidents, in which he shot eight people, killing four, as “a .500 hit,” according to the report.
Responders downplayed the value of routine investigations into drunk driving or speeding and instead focused on seizing large quantities of drugs and weapons, according to the report.
But the advice shared with participants offered problematic advice about vehicle stops, the investigation found.
Drivers who look away from a police car should be considered suspicious, instructors said; Drivers staring at officers for too long were also a concern. Passengers wearing hats partially obscuring their faces were included on the “reasonable suspicion factors” checklist. Motorists too who took off their hats as the police approached.
“The checklist says it is suspicious if the car occupants are too well dressed, if they are driving a long distance, if they are driving a minivan without a child seat, if the car has a ‘lived-in look’ ‘with food, wrappers and water bottles, or if the car contains a trash bag for garbage,’ the report states.
The comptroller’s office, established in 2007 and expanded several years later, functions as an independent watchdog agency responsible for auditing and monitoring state agencies, state colleges and universities, and local governments. She sent her findings to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the state’s Civil Rights Division and the internal affairs units of several New Jersey police departments for further investigation.
The report notes that in addition to the troubling biases displayed by some stakeholders and the training’s potential to perpetuate harmful policing practices, the instruction could worsen an already costly problem for New Jersey taxpayers: lawsuits alleging misconduct of the police.
The report says that between 2019 and this year, New Jersey police departments agreed to pay approximately $87.8 million to resolve complaints of officer misconduct, many of which involved harassing behavior and discrimination.
“This type of training is too expensive for New Jersey residents,” the report said. “The costs of attending training like this are minimal compared to the potential liability for lawsuits involving excessive force, unlawful searches and seizures, and harassment and discrimination.