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Some Illinois police departments nix training with controversial firm

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Some Illinois police departments nix training with controversial firm

Police department leaders in at least two Illinois towns have canceled upcoming training classes for their officers offered by a private firm whose past practices were criticized by a New Jersey state agency for promoting unconstitutional tactics and for glorifying violence.

Street Cop Training was slated to hold training classes in five Illinois communities between April and November: Burr Ridge, Cary, Elgin, Mount Vernon and Rochelle. Burr Ridge and Rochelle have since canceled classes. And Elgin has said its officers will not attend the company’s training.

The company’s courses are not certified by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, state officials said, meaning any officers who attended those classes would not receive continuing education credits.

In December, the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller released a scathing report centered on a six-day training conference Street Cop held in Atlantic City in October 2021. Nearly 1,000 officers from departments across the country attended the conference, the report states, where they heard instructors who “promoted the use of unconstitutional policing tactics for motor vehicle stops,” and “glorified violence and an excessively militaristic or ‘warrior’ approach to policing.”

The agency’s report counted “over 100 discriminatory and harassing remarks by speakers and instructors, with repeated references to speakers’ genitalia, lewd gestures and demeaning quips about women and minorities.”

“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,” Kevin Walsh, acting state comptroller, said in a release announcing the report. “The fact that the training undermined nearly a decade of police reforms — and New Jersey dollars paid for it — is outrageous.”

Street Cop did not respond to a Chicago Tribune email seeking comment for this story. The company, once based in New Jersey, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Florida, where it relocated, according to a company Facebook post.

“Rather than spend time in the past we look forward to our future and ensuring that the people of this country get a better police officer to serve and protect them,” the post reads. “Yea we cursed at our event and told jokes. But to this day even after further review there is still nothing supporting any claims of 4th Amendment wrong doings or racial unfairness.”

Burr Ridge police Chief John Madden said two of his officers attended Street Cop training classes, one in 2022 and the other in 2023, and told the chief they saw none of the behavior documented in the New Jersey report. One of those officers recommended the department host a Street Cop training class, which had been scheduled for November. Doing so would allow a certain number of Burr Ridge officers to attend for free, depending on how many officers from outside agencies purchased $299 tickets.

The class was supposed to be taught by an Indiana police sergeant who, according to the New Jersey comptroller report, espoused potentially unconstitutional traffic stop tactics during his presentation at the Atlantic City conference.

Madden said another officer flagged the New Jersey report shortly after its release in December.

“Extremely disturbing,” he said of the report. “We’re talking about unconstitutional practices, discriminatory conduct. We’re not sending our officers to anything like that.”

Some Burr Ridge residents were outraged to learn about the classes.

“Residents deserve assurance that no more public money will be spent on these disturbing police training tactics that expose our village to potentially expensive litigation and which places our officers at risk,” Burr Ridge resident Patricia Davis wrote in an email to Madden, the mayor and the Village Board.

Madden said no public money would have been spent on the training and that his staff repeatedly tried to speak with someone at Street Cop to ask, in part, if the company had taken any steps to correct the myriad issues raised in the comptroller’s report. When no one responded, Madden  instructed a deputy chief to inform the company that Burr Ridge would no longer host the class or send its officers to it, he said.

“Moving forward, we’ve got nothing to do with this company,” Madden said, “If you have a private company providing law enforcement training, as chiefs we really have to vet the companies.”

The class Burr Ridge planned to host, called “Interdiction Mastermind,” is also scheduled to be held April 4 in Cary with the same Indiana sergeant as instructor, according to the company’s website.

Cary police Chief Patrick Finlon did not respond to a message seeking comment, nor did Chief Trent Page in Mount Vernon, 280 miles south of Chicago, where a different instructor’s class is scheduled for June 11.

A Street Cop class on Illinois case law, taught by an attorney and police corporal in Crown Point, Indiana, is scheduled to be held Aug. 26 in Elgin.

Elgin Police Department spokesman, Sgt. Mike Martino, said the department is not the host agency for that class and will not have any officers in attendance. He declined to answer additional questions.

About 80 miles west of Chicago, in Rochelle, Chief Pete Pavia said his officers asked a few months ago if the department would consider hosting a Street Cop training class. A class taught by the company’s founder, former New Jersey police Officer Dennis Benigno, was scheduled for July 15.

Yesterday, Pavia said he canceled the class after learning from a state law enforcement training official that his officers would not receive credit for the session.

“I was told it had something to do with them filing bankruptcy,” Pavia said, adding that he was unaware of the New Jersey comptroller report before speaking with a Chicago Tribune reporter.

“I’m glad I canceled this class,” Pavia said. “Had I known this, I wouldn’t have considered hosting a class for them in the first place.”

In the future, he continued, “when someone brings a class, I’ll look more into it.”



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