For the first time, police licensing board pulls training because it may violate Minnesota’s ‘warrior-style’ ban
The state licensing board that oversees police officers recently retracted its approval of a national training organization that offered classes to officers in Minnesota.
The company, called Street Cop Training, had the stamp of approval from the Minnesota POST Board up until 5 INVESTIGATES started asking questions about its history.
The state board rescinded its support days later.
Minnesota POST Board Executive Director Erik Misselt informed police chiefs in late December that “we have reason to believe that the training may violate” state law, according to an email obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.
Street Cop Training has been embroiled in controversy in New Jersey, where last month, state investigators released the findings of an investigation into a six-day conference held there in 2021.
Investigators found the presenters at the conference promoted the use of unconstitutional policing, disparaged minority groups, and glorified violence. Video clips of presentations at the conference sent shock waves across the country.
“I love violence. I love fighting. I love shooting. And I f***** love freedom,” said presenter Tim Kennedy, with U.S. Special Forces. “It wasn’t that long ago that we were drinking out of the skulls of our enemies.”
In a statement, Kennedy said that clip was taken out of context. “It is sad to see any form of government target individuals trying to make a positive difference for their communities and society at large,” he said.
5 INVESTIGATES learned two of the instructors who presented in New Jersey were also approved to run classes in Minnesota. They were also named in that state’s investigation and appeared in videos.
“This is not the sort of policing that people in this state want,” said Michelle Gross, the head of Communities United Against Police Brutality.
In 2020, Gross and her colleagues successfully lobbied to pass a new law in Minnesota that bans warrior-style training that “dehumanizes people or encourages aggressive conduct.”
“The law should prevent organizations, such as Street Cop Training, from actually happening in the state, but it’s dependent on the work of the POST Board to enforce it,” she said.
Before the POST Board removed its accreditation, Street Cop Training instructor Tommy Brooks promoted his upcoming $300 class called “The Gun Game” in Minnesota, featuring a big stamp in the corner: “MN POST APPROVED.”
That posting has since been removed.
New Jersey investigators found Brooks promoted unconstitutional traffic stops.
“Have a day when you pull over 20 people in a row for the sole purpose of asking them a series of questions,” Brooks said in one of the videos. “You will learn a general baseline.”
Brooks and the company did not respond to a request for comment.
Misselt, the head of the POST board, said the state agency is investigating Street Cop Training and the curriculum that it previously approved for Minnesota officers.
“On its face, and in viewing the report and the videos, I had the same concerns,” Misselt said. “Much of that conduct was egregious without question. The issue for the POST board becomes, ‘is that organization conducting that kind of training here in Minnesota?'”
Misselt said his staff is responsible for vetting all courses and curriculum that are submitted for POST board approval. Police officers can only obtain required continuing education credits from courses that the state agency approves.
5 INVESTIGATES asked Misselt if he regrets accrediting Street Cop Training.
“I wouldn’t say I regret it, no,” he said. “We followed our process as we do. Right now, at this moment, we probably have 6,000 approved courses out there.”
Tom Rizzo, one of the instructors who was approved to train officers in Minnesota, was named in the New Jersey report because his presentation included images about an “us versus them mentality.” In one video clip, the instructor also appears to mock the LGBTQ community.
“Keep re-imagining as he or her, him/her, she/him, whatever the f****** you want to call people now,” he said.
Rizzo told 5 INVESTIGATES he stopped working with the company Street Cop Training in 2022 but plans to re-apply on his own in Minnesota to keep offering his class.
He did not address the findings in the report of the videos, but the founder of Street Cop Training, Dennis Benigno, did respond in a video posted to the company’s website.
“I personally take responsibility and apologize for any inappropriate or offensive language,” he said.
Benigno said the organization went through sensitivity training since the conference in New Jersey, but also pushed back on many of the findings in the report.
He denies they ever promoted unconstitutional policing.
“I want to express that while we were painted as the bad guys,” he said. “We are in fact the good guys.”