This Texas-based company makes millions consulting police across Minnesota. Critics call it a powerful roadblock to reform.
The instructor was teaching police officers how to write more effective reports and offered several tips such as how to “prepare the script” and portray officers as “victims.”
In the webinar, officers were also scolded for documenting injuries suffered by suspects during fights with police.
“I don’t understand why cops have this inherent need to take bloody photographs of suspects after they get in a fight or whatever with the bad guy,” said Bruce Praet, an attorney and former officer. “You guys are taking photos of this guy when they look like their face has been through a meat grinder. Their white shirt is crimson red and you’re snapping color pictures. Stop it. Clean them up.”
Praet was advising officers on how to protect their departments—and his customers—from costly legal settlements.
“There’s a simple formula, you all need to commit this to memory: red turns to green at the time of trial,” Praet added. “If there’s blood in the photo, you’re going to pay money.”
Praet’s 2019 presentation is one of numerous training seminars offered to law enforcement agencies across the country, and the state, through a police consulting business he co-founded called Lexipol.
Since he helped create the Texas-based, for-profit company in 2003, it has grown into “one of the most powerful voices pushing against reform” in policing, according to researchers at the UCLA School of Law.
The company’s own attorney recently described efforts to restrict officers’ use of force as “bad for business.”
Since Minnesota became the epicenter for police reform after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, advocates have focused on changing policies related to use of force, de-escalation and, most recently, no-knock warrants.
However, 5 INVESTIGATES found many police departments and sheriffs’ offices in Minnesota don’t write their own policies. Lexipol does.
The company sells policy manuals for tens of thousands of dollars.
“Any decision that they make is going to have an outsized influence,” said UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz, the co-author of a study published last year that examined Lexipol’s influence on law enforcement.
A company spokesperson declined multiple interview requests and refused to share how much money it makes from services provided in Minnesota.
But public records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES from Lexipol’s customers reveal just how much influence the company has on law enforcement in the state:
- At least 50 of the 100 largest police departments currently have contracts with the company.
- Lexipol also drafts the policies for 82 out of the 87 sheriffs’ departments as part of an agreement with the Minnesota County Sheriffs’ Association.
- One out of every five approved training seminars for law enforcement in Minnesota are conducted by Police1—a company that Lexipol acquired in 2019.
The state’s largest agencies, including police in Minneapolis and St. Paul, do not pay Lexipol to draft its policies. However, the Minnesota State Patrol spends roughly $20,000 a year on training through Police1.
Contracts obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES show police departments and sheriffs’ offices paid the company at least $2.2 million combined over the past three years.
“For me, that’s a very cheap insurance policy,” said longtime Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie.
Leslie, who sits on the company’s Law Enforcement Advisory Council, says Lexipol’s automatic policy updates are a more efficient way of keeping rules for officers up to date, and cuts down on legal settlements.
“I would put $100 on the table that a similarly sized organization without Lexipol has paid out more than I have,” Leslie said.
Critics argue such a mentality is part of the problem because it shows Lexipol’s main goal is to limit a department’s liability rather than to establish best practices.
“If you review their materials, they consistently and passionately argue in favor of giving officers maximum discretion, using ‘may’ instead of ‘must,’ ‘can’ instead of ‘shall,'” Schwartz said.
Praet, Lexipol’s co-founder, calls that strategy one of their “secret sauces.”
“Rarely, if ever, will you see the use of the word ‘shall’ in our policies,” he said in another webinar that has since been removed from the company’s website.
His comments were referenced in UCLA’s research and independently confirmed by 5 INVESTIGATES as part of a review of the company’s webinars, blogs and other articles.
In the 2019 webinar, which remains live on the company’s website today, Praet went as far as instructing officers not just to clean the blood off suspects but to also “get them smiling” before taking their picture.
“Try it. Have you ever had a problem getting a gangster to throw a sign for the camera?” Praet said. “They love it. They don’t understand it’s going to be used as a sentencing enhancement later.”
After initially refusing to provide a statement, Lexipol later downplayed Praet’s role in the company that he started. While Praet is the co-founder and board member, he is “not an employee nor is he involved in authoring policy content,” a spokesperson said in a recent email to 5 INVESTIGATES.
The spokesperson added that Praet’s webinar, when viewed in its entirety, encouraged officers to provide the “clearest possible view of what happened” when writing their reports.
The company did not specifically address Praet’s advice about cleaning up bloody suspects.
Mendota Heights Police Chief Kelly McCarthy, whose department has a contract with Lexipol, said she was unaware of Praet’s remarks.
“I’ve never heard that before and I would be very surprised if that was accurate and in context,” she said. “We don’t change (evidence) to present to juries, you don’t change those things.”
McCarthy, who also serves as the chair of the Minnesota POST Board that has approved Lexipol based training, says the company offers departments a template for drafting their own policies.
She emphasized that it should only be used as a starting point.
“Just like if you downloaded a resume template and didn’t change anything, you would be in a world of hurt,” McCarthy said. “Just like if you download police policies, and you’re not doing things to make sure that you’re in line with public expectation, that’s going to come back and bite you.”
‘Bad for business‘
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, one of the most prominent police reform advocates in Minnesota, says she believes Lexipol discourages departments from going off script.
“Lexipol does not want folks to tweak their policies,” she said. “They like things to be a little bit loose, because when you have loose rules, you can’t ever say that somebody didn’t follow those rules.”
A Lexipol’s spokesperson said that the company continues to support police reform efforts.
But in a police reform webinar from last year, the company’s own attorney said that it is a “common myth” that policy changes can actually change an officer’s behavior and cautioned departments against going too far.
“Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’re seeing,” said Laura Scarry. “For example, we’re seeing some policies actually adding the specific circumstances under which an officer can use force. Bad for business.”
In recent months, Lexipol has started to pull down some of its old training materials and presentations, citing “the rapidly evolving” changes in public safety.
Yet Praet’s 2019 presentation on what officers should do before taking pictures of bloody suspects is still available.
“Get them smiling, pointing to their oh so painful injuries. We use that in court later,” he said. “It is good stuff. Send me copies, I’m going to publish a book, ‘stupid people hurt by cops.’ We’re all going to make a million bucks.”