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NJ private police training promoted ‘unconstitutional tactics’: OSC investigation finds

By WABC Staff

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    NEW JERSEY (WABC) — There is outrage growing over a police training conference in New Jersey after trainers were seen on video telling vulgar stories, glorifying violence and even encourage officers to violate the law.

A report from the New Jersey Comptroller’s Office found a private police training conference, attended by hundreds of officers all over the state, promoted unconstitutional tactics, demeaned women and minorities, and glorified violence.

A dozen local departments took part in the training two years ago, but a state watchdog just released the video Wednesday.

Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh said that the taxpayer-funded training was conducted by New Jersey-based Street Cop over six days in Atlantic City back in October 2021.

There were nearly 1,000 officers there in attendance with 240 from the state of New Jersey and state officials say the officers were taught to use tactics that violate the constitution.

Private, post-academy police training has virtually no regulation. Neither the Attorney General, Police Training Commission, nor any other public entity determines what private vendors like Street Cop can teach, the Office of the State Comptroller said.

The office says they reviewed hours of Street Cop video footage and internal documents and conducted interviews with scores of witnesses.

OSC’s Police Accountability Project found the lack of oversight allowed for alarming deficiencies in the training, including:

– More than 100 discriminatory and harassing comments were made, with speakers discussing the size of their genitals, displaying lewd images, and making demeaning quips about women and minorities.

– Instructors, some of them active New Jersey police officers, advocated stopping motorists for no reason or illegally prolonging stops. If employed, these tactics could violate people’s civil rights and be unconstitutional under both federal and New Jersey laws.

– Some instructors promoted a “warrior” approach to policing and dehumanized civilians, referring to them as “the pieces of (expletive) of society” or using offensive memes.

“We found so many examples of so many instructors promoting views and tactics that were wildly inappropriate, offensive, discriminatory, harassing, and, in some cases, likely illegal. The fact that the training undermined nearly a decade of police reforms-and New Jersey dollars paid for it-is outrageous,” Walsh said.

More than $75,000 in public funds was spent, not including paid time off or paid training days, but the Office said the actual amount could not be determined.

OSC also alleges that Street Cop said it received roughly $320,000 from various New Jersey law enforcement agencies for other trainings held between 2019 and 2022, but said its investigators found that the actual amount was at least double that.

Among the comments in question, OSC said that Street Cop Founder/CEO Dennis Benigno, a former New Jersey police officer, for instance, talked about wanting to die in Colombia, surrounded by cocaine and “girls” who are “not as wealthy and need to do things to make money.”

None of the New Jersey police who attended complained about the training to their agencies, OSC found.

“What is painfully evident is that it often takes more than laws and policies to change behavior and attitudes,” said Walsh. “New Jersey needs quality police training, and to have that quality training, we need regulation over private companies operating in this sphere.”

The head of Street Cop defending his organization in a statement that read in part:

“There is not one single instance in the OSC Report where we have advocated any practice that is 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.”

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