Despite the American public’s push for police reform, some law enforcement officers are attending classes emphasizing use of force — even if their departments don’t Ok it.
MINNEAPOLIS — On May 28, 126 police officers in Seattle filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that restrictions placed on the department by a federal court in 2012 regarding officers’ ability to use excessive force was a violation of their constitutional rights as officers.
Although the restrictions were put in place by the feds to curb the rampant unconstitutional policing the city was experiencing — especially when it came to the use of excessive and deadly force against mostly minority suspects — the officers argue that having to restrain themselves while on duty only leads to an increase in the number of citizens and officers killed.
In their 81-page filing, the officers specifically argue that they are often put in situations in which they have no choice but to overreact and use force. They also say that the current “impractical and burdensome” restrictions only “trap” officers and lead to an increase in misconduct violations.
Represented by a Washington, D.C.-based former civil rights attorney, the lawsuit reportedly reflects the “political agenda and rhetoric from the virulently anti-reform police union, the Seattle Police Officers Guild,” and not necessarily the feelings of the Seattle Police Department itself. However, Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, says the union does not support the lawsuit.
Still, the Seattle-based officers have continued to push for a federal judge to issue an injunction to freeze the use-of-force regulations, at least temporarily, as well as provide financial compensation for those officers who were improperly disciplined or lost wages for violating the use-of-force policies.
Whether the officers’ request will be approved or denied remains to be seen. But one thing that seems to be evident is that law enforcement’s push for more power is not unique to any one part of the country.
Incidents of police brutality in Salinas, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Anaheim, Calif.; Minneapolis, have put the issue in the spotlight. Police reform advocates and materIals provided to MintPress News suggest this could be because police officers seem to have a mentality in which they believe they should shoot first and ask questions later.
According to John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State,” “The increased use of violence by police is one of the most dangerous trends occurring in the United States today. Indeed, our militarized police are clearly viewing the average American as something akin to an enemy combatant.
“In fact, unarmed Americans are being shot by police on a routine basis. Several decades ago, this was unheard of. Moreover, the increased use of SWAT team raids only exacerbates the problem in creating an aggressive police force that is similar to the founding armies America’s founders warned us against.”
If the protests against local police departments that have popped up as a result of these officer-involved shootings in recent years, months and weeks are any indication, it seems the public has had enough.
Intent of a firearm
Law enforcement has historically said officers don’t shoot to kill, but that they only shoot to harm or stop a suspect, so the apparent increase in officer-involved shootings was puzzling to some.
However, police reform advocates have taken the police shootings as an opportunity to argue that the United States is becoming a militarized police state, while several officers have attributed the increase in deaths to people responding to law enforcement in a more violent manner than they used to, the idea that news travels farther thanks to social media, and people now being more likely to be armed than they were before.
But many police reform advocates and concerned citizens are not convinced that another factor isn’t at play.
After coming across a crime scene in which a 20-year-old was shot in the back by police officers, a Minnesota resident says he was curious about what kind of instructions police officers were being given regarding the use of force, especially since he learned that the story the police gave to reporters was entirely different from the one they had posted on their Facebook page.
Concerned about this and another killing, “Jack,” who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation, has attended 24 hours of training for law enforcement officers this year.
Jack attended two classes — “The Bulletproof Warrior” and “Anatomy of Force Incidents” — organized by the private, for-profit law enforcement training organization Calibre Press.
Instructors for the courses include some of the most famous police trainers in the U.S., such as John Bostain, a program specialist at the Law Enforcement Training Center whose career has also included stints with the Hampton, Va., police department, as well as experience as part of a SWAT team, narcotics investigations and as an academy instructor.
The other instructor Jack encountered was Jim Glennon, owner and director of training for Calibre Press. Glennon has worked in various positions from patrol officer to lieutenant in Illinois, and served as the first Commander of Investigations for the DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force in 1998.
Jack was able to get into the classes even though he is not employed by any law enforcement agency because the organization allows officers to pay for the trainings themselves, since not every department wants their officers attending these training events. Plus, as he told MintPress, he looks like a stereotypical police officer — a white male who has broad-shoulders, a close shave and a short haircut — so not many people questioned him.
He says he doesn’t have a troubled past with the police, pointing out that his only interactions with law enforcement involve parking tickets. But because he looks like the stereotypical police officer and feels police officers represent white culture, he decided to investigate what was happening.
“I felt morally obliged to help a too-trusting public see what is happening,” he said.
The hidden, aggressive agenda
It may strike some as strange that a police department would not want its officers to receive more training, but the concern for officials at police departments, including Houston and Los Angeles, is the type of training officers receive during these seminars. As Jack told MintPress, Glennon shared that a police chief from a suburb of Dallas told Glennon that he doesn’t allow his officers to take a class from Calibre Press because he knows it will make his officers too aggressive and create other problems for the department.
But Jack says the reason officers can still attend these classes even if their department doesn’t endorse the seminars, is because most civilian review committees and commissions and local politicians have no idea these courses even exist, and these companies continue to hold these training seminars in locations that are convenient for officers.
In Minnesota, where Jack attended the training seminars, the classes were not sponsored by the Minneapolis or St. Paul police departments. Instead, the Association of Training Officers of Minnesota and the St. Paul Police Professional Development Institute — an independent company that is not part of the St. Paul Police Department — hosted the training seminars.
“The problem is that some of the most famous and influential trainers instruct in cops-only sessions,” Jack said about the seminars. “Any discussion about use-of-force standards and trends inevitably gets bogged down by police apologists who insist that the public should trust the fact that police are well-trained. The public can never really exercise its proper oversight of its own police agencies, if and until it knows how they train and prepare for interactions with the public. It was apparent that someone needed to find out what was happening behind those closed doors.”
Jack says it was troubling to witness hundreds of SWAT team officers and supervisors who seemed unfazed by being instructed to not hesitate when it comes to using excessive, and even deadly, force. He also voiced concerns about how rookie cops might be affected by the class.
“There were lots of young, gung-ho guys in these classes,” he said, before expressing his concerns that these same officers will now be more likely to fire their guns while on duty than they would have if they had not taken these classes.
“From my personal experience, these trainers consistently promote more aggression and criticize hesitation to use force,” Jack said. “They argue that the risk of making a mistake is worth it to absolutely minimize risk to the officer. And they teach officers how to use the law to minimize legal repercussions in almost any scenario. All this is, of course, done behind the scenes, with no oversight from police administrators, much less the public.”
Learning materials on the “Anatomy of Force Incidents” class led by Bostain, emphasized the use of force. According to Jack’s notes, Bostain informed attendees that 70 percent of officers killed didn’t respond with deadly force, which is why Bostain argued that, statistically, police use too little force.
Legal justifications for police brutality
“Bostain’s eight-hour presentation was mostly a tutorial of how to apply the ‘objective reasonableness’ standard to a multitude of circumstances,” Jack said, explaining that Bostain repeatedly dissected videos to illustrate to attendees how an officer could have legally justified a kill shot.
“It was literally a training to seek the legal opportunity to kill,” he said. “As [Bostain] said in the training, ‘Right and wrong are about morality, reasonable and unreasonable is about the law, and that is where we are focused.’ This meant a wounded officer from Texas was criticized for refusing to take an intermediate distance shot because there were civilians in the suspects background.
“To my horror, Bostain followed up to that particular video with a statistic indicating most officers shot to death never shot back.”
According to the learning materials, Bostain argues there isn’t time for logic and analysis, encouraging officers to fire multiple rounds at subjects because “two shots rarely stops ‘em,” and outlines seven reasons why “excessive use of force” is a myth.
Other lessons Jack learned from the “Anatomy of Force Incidents” training in January include a need to over-analyze one’s environment for deadly threats by using one’s imagination to create “targets of the day” who could be “reasonably” shot, to view racial profiling as a legitimate policing technique, even if the person is a child, pregnant woman or elderly person, and to use the law to one’s advantage to avoid culpability.
In Glennon’s May training class, Jack says he was instructed by the charismatic, macho, former interrogator on how to learn to ignore natural human reactions such as stress in order to use force without hesitation.
“Glennon’s version of the ‘don’t hesitate’ message is the most dangerous I have seen, even after researching police apologists,” Jack said. “This was apparent in Glennon’s defense of the Albuquerque officer’s killing of a homeless man with shots to his back.”
For Jack, the most alarming part Glennon’s message came when he criticized a Minnesota state trooper for hesitating to fire his weapon at a drunk man who was attempting to exit his car with a rifle in his hand.
“For me, it was a moment of pride in the humanity of our Minnesota trooper who gave the drunk suspect every possible chance to surrender,” Jack said. “He died only when he moved to aim the weapon,” but Glennon “wanted him to die before he even put a foot outside the car door.”
Those familiar with Glennon are likely not surprised by his statements in the class, since Glennon has written columns for law enforcement magazines arguing that police brutality is a natural result of good, proactive officers doing good work, and that communities that criticize police for brutality should be forced to live without law enforcement.
The American public’s push for police reform to ensure that law enforcement helps keep a community safe and doesn’t terrorize residents is at odds with a push to teach police officers to fire their weapons before asking questions. But companies like Calibre Press are motivated by profit — not necessarily what Americans want.
Calibre Press reportedly earns around $35 million per year. That could increase exponentially in the next few years if departments succumb to the illusion that forceful policing is the future and is in the best interests of the American public. Meanwhile, the company is expanding its course offerings.
On Thursday and Friday, Calibre Press was in Minneapolis conducting a two-day pilot seminar on its newest program, “The Ultimate FTO.” According to the organization’s website, the class for field training officers is an “evidence-based officer safety program focused on human performance improvement,” that is supposed to turn a “good” FTO into a “great” FTO.
Brian Glennon, director of marketing for Calibre Press, told MintPress that the 30-person class — which each student pays $209 to attend — was full. He said this and about 19 classes the organization offers are continued advanced training for current law enforcement officers that are taught by current and retired law enforcement officers.
Per Brian Glennon’s suggestion, MintPress was scheduled to have an interview with Jim Glennon, but our calls and emails were not returned after our initial conversation with Brian.
Since it doesn’t appear these pro-force classes will be going away anytime soon, the Rutherford Institute’s Whitehead says the public has to get involved in order to prevent the furtherance of a police state in the U.S.
“I do believe that headway can be made against this problem on the local level if citizens will get organized and demand that their local governing councils create oversight boards with the intention of not only correcting problems but preventing the growth of the increased aggression by police in general,” he said.
“What Americans have forgotten is that there once was a time in our nation’s history when the police operated as public servants (i.e., in service to the public). Today that master-servant relationship has been turned on its head to such an extent that if we fail to obey anyone who wears a badge, we risk dire consequences.”