Shocking NJ police training glorified violence and breaking the law
🚓 New Jersey cops attended taxpayer-funded training in Atlantic City
🚓 Speakers encouraged police to violate constitutional rights
🚓 Civil lawsuits against cops cost taxpayers millions each year, officials say
TRENTON — Taxpayers footed the bill for a major police training conference that encouraged New Jersey cops to conduct illegal traffic stops, violate constitutional rights, and disregard accountability, according to a new report.
The six-day conference at an unspecified Atlantic City casino in October 2021 undermined nearly a decade of police reforms, the State Comptroller's Office said in the 43-page report released Wednesday. It was hosted by Street Cop Training, a private company that holds similar events throughout the country.
Nearly 1,000 police officers attended the event, including 240 police officers from New Jersey.
Public funds covered the cost of tuition for the New Jersey officers, which totaled $75,000. Officials say more taxpayer money will be needed to retrain them to avoid costly lawsuits for police misconduct in the future.
Troubling comments caught on camera
More than 100 offensive comments from speakers at the six-day seminar were caught on video, Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh said.
"Instructors taught unconstitutional policing practices, teaching officers to stop motorists without a lawful basis and to illegally prolong traffic stops," Walsh said. "They promoted a warrior mentality and glorified violence. They belittled internal affairs. They dehumanized civilians."
Along with encouraging police misconduct, the Street Cop Training instructors also made remarks offensive to women and racial and ethnic minorities, according to Walsh
Speakers including Bergen County Prosecutor's Office Detective Brad Gilmore talked about the size of their genitals, officials said. Scott Kivet, a sergeant with the Robbinsville police, used an image of a monkey in a presentation while talking about a traffic stop involving a 75-year-old Black man.
Street Cop Training founder and CEO Dennis Benigno talked about going on vacation and finding “girls that are not as wealthy and they need to do things to make money."
Lawsuits for police misconduct cost millions
While tuition for the seminar cost taxpayers thousands, Walsh warned the total cost of the training would be millions of dollars.
He said it was "inevitable" that the behavior encouraged by Street Cop Training instructors would lead to lawsuits for police misconduct.
New Jersey police departments have paid out $87.8 million since 2019 to resolve claims of officer misconduct, according to the OSC.
Part of the problem is that there are no regulations on private police training seminars like the one hosted in Atlantic City two years ago, Walsh said.
"As a result, companies like Street Cop can rent a room, charge officers or the departments to attend, and teach whatever they want. That has to change," Walsh said.
Offensive remarks were "taken out of context"
Benigno said in a statement to the Associated Press 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.
Police officer training company under investigation
Walsh said that his office continues investigating Street Cop Training even after releasing the report. He said he was not able to discuss details about the ongoing investigation.
The seminars likely violated many state laws and policies, the OSC 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.
(Includes material copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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