Private Police Training Conference in New Jersey Raises Concerns Over Unconstitutional Tactics and Discrimination
TRENTON, NJ – In a recent investigation conducted by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), it was revealed that a private police training conference held in Atlantic City in October 2021, organized by Street Cop, a New Jersey-based training company, taught unconstitutional policing tactics, glorified violence, and denigrated women and minorities. The OSC’s findings have raised significant concerns about the lack of regulation in private, post-academy police training.
The six-day training conference, which marketed itself as one of the largest in the country, attracted nearly 1,000 police officers, with approximately 240 officers from various law enforcement agencies across New Jersey attending the event. Shockingly, the majority of these officers paid for their attendance using public funds, as discovered by the OSC investigation.
What is particularly alarming is the absence of oversight and regulation in private police training. Unlike public entities such as the Attorney General or the Police Training Commission, private vendors like Street Cop are not subject to any regulations regarding their curriculum or teaching methodologies. This lack of oversight has resulted in numerous deficiencies in the training, including the promotion of inappropriate and discriminatory views and tactics, as well as potentially illegal practices.
“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,” expressed Kevin Walsh, Acting State Comptroller.
The OSC’s investigation revealed that the 240 New Jersey officers who attended the training hailed from various municipal police departments, county agencies, state agencies, and even the New Jersey State Police. Additionally, the OSC confirmed that several county agencies, municipal police departments, state agencies, and the New Jersey State Police itself had utilized public funds to finance their officers’ attendance at the conference. Although the exact amount of public funds spent could not be determined due to incomplete and inaccurate records provided by Street Cop, it is estimated to be over $75,000.
Furthermore, the OSC investigation shed light on the potential financial consequences that could arise from the training’s teachings. Street Cop presenters promoted tactics and behaviors that are known to result in multi-million dollar lawsuits related to excessive force, unlawful searches and seizures, and workplace harassment and discrimination.
For nearly a decade, New Jersey has been committed to police reforms that aim to eliminate bias and excessive force while restoring community trust. These initiatives encouraged officers to approach policing as “guardians” rather than “warriors.” However, the training provided by Street Cop contradicted these efforts. Instead, speakers at the conference openly mocked the idea of reimagining policing, belittled Internal Affairs, which investigates police misconduct, and advocated for a “warrior” approach to law enforcement. Civilians were dehumanized, and offensive remarks regarding women and racial and ethnic minorities were prevalent throughout the training.
Dennis Benigno, the Founder and CEO of Street Cop and a former New Jersey police officer, made troubling statements during the conference, including expressing a desire to die in Colombia surrounded by cocaine and “girls” who are “not as wealthy and need to do things to make money.” Shockingly, none of the New Jersey police officers who attended the training raised any concerns or complaints with their respective agencies.
In light of these disturbing findings, Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh emphasized the need for regulation and oversight of private companies operating in the police training sphere. He stated, “What is painfully evident is that it often takes more than laws and policies to change behavior and attitudes. New Jersey needs quality police training, and to have that quality training, we need regulation over private companies operating in this sphere.”
Street Cop, which conducts numerous courses in New Jersey annually, training over 2,000 state and local law enforcement officers each year, has come under scrutiny not only in New Jersey but also in at least 46 other states, where public funds have been utilized for their training programs.
As a result of the OSC’s investigation, nine recommendations have been made, including urging the Legislature to consider legislation that addresses the lack of oversight in private police training. Additionally, the OSC will be referring the matter to the Attorney General, the Division on Civil Rights, and other relevant agencies for further investigation.
The OSC’s report serves as a stark reminder of the pitfalls associated with private, unregulated police training. It highlights the urgent need for comprehensive regulation and oversight to ensure that law enforcement officers receive proper training that aligns with constitutional principles and respects the rights and dignity of all individuals.