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Hundreds of New Jersey police officers attended training conference that glorified violence, state comptroller's office says

NJ police officers used taxpayer dollars on problematic training, comptroller's office says
NJ police officers used taxpayer dollars on problematic training, comptroller's office says 03:00

TRENTON, N.J. -- The New Jersey state comptroller's office says hundreds of police officers went to a training conference that glorified violence and normalized discriminatory behavior.

In a scathing new report, the acting comptroller says nearly 1,000 police officers from across the nation attended this six-day conference. About 240 of those officers were from New Jersey, and most of the officers paid for the attendance using taxpayer dollars.

Videos released by the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller show police officers speaking at the Atlantic City conference in 2021. The acting comptroller says it was organized by Street Cop Training, a private company founded by Dennis Benigno, a former officer who worked in Middlesex County.

Video from the conference shows Benigno telling his audience, "I'm not talking about the guy who's f---ing recording you, like, 'I am not a citizen of the United States and f---ing Act 12, 6.' Shut the f--- up, right? About to get pepper-sprayed, f---ing tased, windows broken out, motherf---r."

"Instructors taught unconstitutional policing practices," New Jersey Acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh said.

Walsh says at least $75,000 in public funds were spent by New Jersey taxpayers for officers attending the conference.

"Taxpayers paid for a training that normalized discriminatory and harassing behavior by public servants who are supposed to be held to very high standards," Walsh said.

Walsh says the conference promoted a warrior mentality.

Tim Kennedy, a speaker from the U.S. Army Special Forces, told attendees, "I love violence. I love fighting. I love shooting. And I f-----g love freedom ... It wasn't that long ago that we were drinking out of the skulls of our enemies. F---ing rad, right?"

"Run from me, somewhere along the chase, it becomes pow pow pow," former law enforcement officer Shawn Pardazi says in one video.

Watch Tim McNicholas' report

NJ officers attended conference glorifying violence, comptroller's office says 02:38

As for the people attending from New Jersey, the comptroller's office says the videos show speakers from the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and the Warren Township Police Department.

"I would be remiss if I didn't remind you or let you know that I have a 3-inch d---," says Brad Gilmore, with the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

"I watched this car come off the highway, and I eye-f--- the s--- outta the female driver. She doesn't wanna f--- me back though," says Rob Ferreiro, with the Warren Township Police Department.

In another clip, a sergeant from the Robbinsville Township Police Department shows a monkey on screen while describing a Black man during a traffic stop.

"That's not an 18-year-old kid dressed like Jesus coming eastbound out of Trenton. That's a 75-year-old Black man with a change in driving behavior, came into a gas station," says Sgt. Scott Kivet.

The police chief in Robbinsville says he's concerned by the report and that sergeant is now facing an internal affairs investigation.

We reached out to the other departments who had officers attending or training, including the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, who said they are aware of the report and allegations, which they take very seriously.

The comptroller's office says Street Cop has received at least $320,000 from various New Jersey agencies since 2019.

New Jersey's ACLU legal director Jeanne LoCicero says this conference sets back years of police reform efforts.

"This has been operating in this whole space of lack of regulation, and so we've seen it really run amok here," she said.

"Any kind of private police training in New Jersey, does it have to be accredited? Does it have to have certificates of any kind?" CBS New York's Ali Bauman asked LoCicero.

"Well, it seems not," LoCicero said.

The latest data shows there are 72 police departments in New Jersey staffed by all White officers and 108 police departments across the state staffed by all male officers. Women make up 11% of the police force in New Jersey.

"New Jersey has a long history of racialized policing, so we know communities of color are going to bear the brunt of some of the practices that were espoused at this training," LoCicero said.

Street Cop sent CBS New York the following statement:

"Street Cop, the largest and most praised police training organization in the United States, has been subjected to a lengthy investigation of a conference it held in Atlantic City in 2021, one of the many hundreds of trainings it has held for tens of thousands of police officers nationally.  The officers who attend Street Cop's programs routinely praise it as one of the best trainings they have ever received, providing them with skills and insights that are simply not taught in the academic setting prior to graduation.  That is why so many training attendees encourage other law enforcement personnel to attend future sessions and thereby better hone their law enforcement skills.  The NJ Office of the State Comptroller, through its Police Accountability Project, published a report criticizing Street Cop for allowing profanity and other inappropriate or embarrassing language at its 2021 Atlantic City Conference during entertainment and training sessions.  Long before the OSC issued its report, Street Cop determined to impose stricter standards on colloquial and jocular language occasionally used by some instructors.  However, 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.   

"Street Cop has saved the lives of uncounted police officers and citizens, and has prevented untold numbers of illegal drug distribution and human trafficking.  It is evident, however, that some in New Jersey do not want what Street Cop has to offer.  As law enforcement professionals, we are saddened when any state in desperate need of training resources for its professionals actively declines that assistance. In fact, we are praying for our fellow officers that there is relevant and quality training available to them, because the consequences of poorly training officers are devastating.  

"While we regret any embarrassment that this report will cause our trainers or students, we pledge to remain the country's most highly regarding police training source while continually improving the quality and content of our program."

The New Jersey Attorney General has since referred the report to the Division on Civil Rights and told State Police to no longer attend.

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