More training like this won’t make America safer.
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Forty-Six States Paid for Violent, Racist Police Training. We Should Ban Pretextual Stops Instead.

by Shirley LaVarco

For decades, we’ve been told police officers just need training and resources to do their jobs correctly. These items, including cultural sensitivity training, implicit bias training, de-escalation training, and so on, cost billions every year. But we know from the senseless killings of Tyre Nichols, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and many others that no amount of training or resources will stop police from killing Black and brown people. Nor will it ensure that police treat people with dignity and respect.

Worse still, the "training" that cops already receive often glorifies violence, reinforces racist ideas, and is taught by officers with histories of misconduct. A damning new report has once again underscored that point.

A recent investigation by the New Jersey Comptroller revealed that at least 46 states have paid a for-profit training company called NJ Criminal Interdiction—which does business under the name "Street Cop"—to fill police officers’ heads with hateful rhetoric and bad legal advice. At a conference attended by more than 1,000 law enforcement officers from across the country, Street Cop trainers urged police officers to make unconstitutional traffic stops and indiscriminately shoot at those who defy their authority.

Moreover, Street Cop’s owner, Dennis Benigno, said that anyone who exercises their First Amendment right to record a police interaction should "get peppers prayed, fucking tased, windows broken out, motherfucker." Street Cop also fed trainees a steady diet of racism and misogyny. Sergeant Scott Kivet likened a Black man to a monkey. Kivet also used a vulgar meme to make light of anal cavity searches, which are routinely used as pretexts for sexual
and racialized violence. Another Street Cop instructor, Shawn Pardazi, joked about how he cosplays as Mexican and takes on names such as "Juan" and "Jose." Pardazi also traded in Orientalist tropes, used a put-on accent, and invoked his Middle Eastern heritage as an excuse to objectify women and spew the kinds of "counter-terrorist" propaganda that fuels hate crimes.

Several instructors disparaged and dehumanized disabled people, used terms like "midget" and "retard," and displayed offensive imagery. And when giving a speech about rendering medical aid, Sean Barnette, a trained medic and deputy sheriff from Oklahoma, advised fellow officers to treat criminal suspects like "live tissue labs" to "practice on."
NJ Comptroller's Office

Street Cop instructors frequently objectified women, particularly sex workers and trafficking victims. For example, Nick Jerman gratuitously displayed photographs of women in lingerie, one of whom he described as a "human trafficking victim." Similarly, Pardazi likened pursuing a suspect to an act of sexual conquest. He told fellow officers to act like "fucking gigolo[s]" going after "punani" and "whores." Another trainer named Tim Kennedy bragged about "buying a bitch" during a counter-trafficking operation.

The rampant misogyny only underscores how often police use their badges to sexually harass, assault, and rape people—particularly Black and brown women and girls.

When Street Cop’s instructors weren’t too busy talking about their penis sizes or mimicking masturbation (yes, really), they were promoting a so-called "Reasonable Suspicion" checklist. The list is riddled with legal inaccuracies about what is needed to justify a traffic stop or search. According to Street Cop, officers should consider drivers suspicious if they tilt their heads, remove their hats, or lick their lips (allegedly to "lubricate lies"). Food wrappers or a backpack on the floor of one’s car are apparently signs of criminal activity. Street Cop trainers also asserted that merely refusing consent to a search is itself suspicious—a claim that federal courts have rejected. Moreover, instructors suggested that it is inherently suspect for drivers to say they don’t understand officers’ questions or ask cops to repeat them. This sort of misinformation makes traffic stops particularly dangerous for people with disabilities or impaired hearing.

Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise, given that traffic stops have never been about keeping roads safe or saving lives. Rigorous public health research has confirmed that traffic stops, citations, and arrests do not reduce driving fatalities. Instead, police officers often make traffic stops to harass and intimidate Black and brown drivers and engage in gratuitous acts of violence. For example, Pardazi—one of the Street Cop trainers who made offensive remarks—was recently fired for shooting into the back of a car during a traffic stop in West Baton Rouge that he’d livestreamed on Facebook.

Pardazi’s comments clearly illustrate the double bind Black drivers face. Those who flee from racist cops in the hopes of avoiding a violent interaction are shot anyway and often killed. Those who hope that livestreaming—or even calling their mothers—will protect them learn that the presence of witnesses often doesn't deter cops who are intent on harming people.

New Jersey Comptroller Kevin Walsh’s report calls for a host of corrective actions, many of them prudent. For example, Walsh recommends greater oversight of police training companies that receive public funds. But, paradoxically, he also calls for even more taxpayer dollars to be allocated to police training, as though "retraining" can fix the damage already done. Walsh’s proposal is thus woefully misguided.

If we want to end police violence, we must reduce unnecessary police encounters. Anything short of that leaves far too much room for officers to discriminate and commit violence against Black and brown people. One solution is to ban stops for the hundreds of traffic and vehicle code violations that do not pose serious and imminent threats of bodily harm, as community organizers have proposed in Houston.

While banning pretextual traffic stops won’t fully transform the culture of racism and misogyny permeating American policing, it is a common-sense first step. Doing so will save lives and free up resources for community programs that actually create safety.

Shirley LaVarco is an attorney at Civil Rights Corps, where she advocates for survivors of police violence through strategic litigation and movement support work. She is part of the RISE Houston coalition, which is calling on the Houston City Council to end pretextual traffic stops, cancel the ShotSpotter contract, and freeze HPD’s $1 billion-plus budget.


New York officials have flooded the subway system with cops and military personnel in a show of "security theater." Will it actually make people safer—and is that even the point?

An incarcerated teacher was fired and disciplined for telling students about the racist intent of Jim Crow laws, according to a lawsuit. A supervisor ordered him to say literacy tests were meant to ensure people "knew what they were voting for."


In Louisiana, Republican lawmakers passed dozens of "tough-on-crime" bills during a 9-day special legislative session. [Piper French / Bolts]

More than twenty years ago, Ronald Velasquez Jr. and Abraham Villalobos were convicted of a murder they did not commit based on the testimony of one eyewitness, who initially said she could not see who committed the shooting. Last week, the Los Angeles District Attorney announced that the men were innocent and had been exonerated. [Eric Pierce / The Downey Patriot]

The video game Harvest Moon is sweeping one Missouri prison. "Prisoners sitting beside one another in the dayroom, tablet screens aglow, narrated their moment-by-moment progress at harvest time," wrote Byron Case. "A gaming community had been established." [Byron Case / Prison Journalism Project]

After four years without an execution, Georgia will resume killing people on its death row. Willie James Pye’s execution is scheduled for March 20. [Kate Brumback / Associated Press]

Last Thursday, a dozen civil lawsuits were filed alleging that staff at the federal prison in Dublin, California, had sexually abused and assaulted women incarcerated at the facility. Several staff members, including the warden and prison chaplain, have already been convicted of sex crimes. [Syndey Johnson / KQED]

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