Skip to Content

Unconstitutional police practices--an investigation


In New Jersey, the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) holds the power to audit and review executive government agencies, including police units at state and local levels. The organization’s goal is to root out fraud, waste, and misuse of public money.

Following a tip, the office looked into Street Cop Training, a New Jersey firm. OSC was responding to allegations of misusing public funding. In October 2021, Street Cop Training allegedly spent money on a controversial six-day police workshop in Atlantic City. During this session, the training taught questionable tactics and expressed offensive, discriminatory views.

A Well-Attended Event

Nearly one thousand law enforcement officers attended the national conference, with 240 hailing from various New Jersey agencies. These attendees worked for various government levels, from interstate to local, and most received funding from their employers to cover the conference costs. An investigation by OSC revealed that New Jersey agencies spent at least $75,000 in public funds on conference expenses. This figure excludes any paid leave or training days associated with the event.

A Thorough Investigation

The OSC’s Police Accountability Project reviewed a trove of materials from Steet Cop Training, its training centers, and various law enforcement bodies. The resources included documents and videos from officers who attended the conference. In addition to scrutinizing rules, regulations, and classes, the OSC directly interviewed key witnesses and Dennis Benigno, Street Cop's CEO. All interviews were conducted under oath to ensure truthful findings.

Disturbing Findings

The investigation revealed serious flaws in police training at the conference. These findings helped the OSC uncover a costly oversight in New Jersey's regulation of private post-academy police training. No official entity, including the Attorney General or the Police Training Commission (PTC), currently monitors this training.

New Jersey’s OSC found multiple issues at the policing conference, including:

  • Encouraged division between police and community
  • Contradictions to nearly ten years of reform in New Jersey
  • Alternative viewpoints belittling the internal affairs process
  • Instructors endorsing unconstitutional tactics during vehicle stops
  • Glorified violence and an extreme, militaristic approach to policing
  • Speakers and instructors making over 100 offensive remarks, including lewd comments and gestures and disrespectful jokes targeting women and minorities

Such teachings risk New Jersey’s efforts to de-escalate interactions, gain trust with vulnerable communities, and promote officers’ respect for New Jersey’s diversity.

The Cost of Unethical Police Methods

New Jersey residents shouldn't bear the hefty costs of private police training. Furthermore, if Street Cop Training’s teachings are put into action, citizens will be responsible for liabilities from lawsuits over excessive force, unlawful searches, and harassment.

Records show that from 2012 to 2018, the state faced more than 100 excessive force claims. In 2022, one case alone cost a county $10 million. Discrimination and harassment suits incur similar costs. Recent data suggests that from 2019 to 2023, New Jersey settled misconduct claims involving officers for around $87.8 million. Many of these claims were due to harassment and discrimination. These figures don't even capture the profound, lasting impact bad policing has on victims, their families, and communities.

The Impact of Bad Training

Effective, reasonable police training is crucial. It helps equip officers with the tools to safely handle complex situations. When training encourages harmful tactics that infringe on civil liberties, belittle public safety efforts, and hinder police reforms, it becomes detrimental. Such programs also contribute to a hostile work environment for women and minorities. New Jersey's public funds should not support these training practices.

Suggestions for the Future

Based on their discoveries, OSC offers nine specific suggestions to NJ police departments.

  1. The legislature should consider creating a robust program that officially licenses any private police training programs.
  2. Any officer who attended the Street Cop program should report to the Attorney General about their attendance.
  3. The Attorney General should consider whether to disclose officer attendance, since the conference made so many derogatory statements about protected classes. Doing so could help preserve the integrity of criminal investigations.
  4. The Police Training Commission or the Attorney General should work toward creating uniform standards for private training firms, and they should approve private training against these standards.
  5. If law enforcement agencies are going to use taxpayer money to send police to private training, they should scrutinize the training beforehand.
  6. If an active-duty officer offers training to other officers, they should submit written training materials for review beforehand.
  7. New Jersey should seek a refund from Street Cop.
  8. Law enforcement agencies should demand that their workers report any police training they have, even if they choose to take this training at their expense.
  9. Any officer who attended the Street Cop program should report to the Attorney General for retraining.

With these standards in place, the NJ police force could achieve results that better serve the public.

Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake acts as a watchdog, monitoring improper police behavior. If you believe you were the victim of improper police procedure, reach out to our firm for a free consultation. We practice both criminal and civil law, and we can help protect your rights. You can contact us online or call our office at (410) 927-5137.