A medic for the Oklahoma and Canadian county sheriff’s tactical team stood in front of nearly 1,000 officers from across the country in Atlantic City and explained his distaste for treating gang members.

“I don’t like treating turds, right? Like fuck it, the ambulance can take care of them, right? I have a problem treating young gang bangers, the pieces of shit of society, right,” former Oklahoma County Reserve Deputy Sean Barnette said, according to video clips of the 2021 conference posted on YouTube. “I had a great mentor that told me, ‘well Sean, guess what, that’s a live tissue lab, bro. Anytime you come into one of those shitbags, absolutely do the best you can.”

The New Jersey-based company Street Cop Training hosted the six-day conference. Some Oklahoma police officers attended. One Street Cop trainer joked about pepper spraying and Tasering people. Another instructor told police officers to pull over and question drivers even if they didn’t suspect they had committed any crime, a tactic that has been deemed unconstitutional by authorities in New Jersey. A spokesman for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office said Barnette’s comments don’t reflect the views of the agency and that he no longer works there. Barnette did not respond to requests for comment. 

Nine states have banned officers from attending Street Cop training and seminars. But the Oklahoma state agency that oversees police training still allows officers to use Street Cop sessions to count towards continuing education requirements.  

The Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training doesn’t review course materials before listing them in a catalog of training for officers in the state. Three Oklahoma police departments said they would stop using Street Cop training after The Frontier contacted them. The agencies said they rely on the Council on Law Enforcement Training for guidance on what materials can count toward training credits for officers. 

Michael Anderson, chief of the Warr Acres Police Department said the lack of vetting for course materials concerns him. 

“I think anytime you’re going to have a course of instruction, especially when it comes to involving people’s issues of liberties and laws that instructions and courses need to be thoroughly looked at,” he said.

But the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training doesn’t have the staff to review all materials before they get cataloged, said Preston Draper, general counsel for the agency. 

“Granting a catalog number is simply providing a tracking number to anyone who completes the appropriate application,” Draper said. “It involves no vetting of course content by CLEET staff.”

The council does accredit some training. But It’s the responsibility of the company that produces the training to submit a lesson plan to ensure it complies with the law. Street Cop Training sessions aren’t accredited in Oklahoma, but there is no requirement for training to be accredited for it to count toward continuing education credits.

Street Cop tactics under fire 

Dennis Benigno, a retired police officer who founded Street Cop, said trainers’ remarks have been misconstrued.  

“In this industry of police officers who are adults, we make jokes. If you believe that what you saw wasn’t purposely taken out of context to try and make us look bad, it would be foolish,” he said in an emailed statement to The Frontier

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Before founding Street Cop, Benigno faced allegations of racism and use of illegal tactics as a police officer. Three Black women who claimed they were racially profiled after being arrested at a shopping mall sued Benigno in federal court in 2015 for false imprisonment and excessive use of force. The Township of Woodbridge in New Jersey paid $70,000 to settle the lawsuit, according to news reports. 

Authorities in New Jersey investigated Street Cop Training tactics and produced a scathing report in December 2023. The New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller found that the training promoted unconstitutional traffic stops, insubordination, racist and sexist remarks and glorified violence.

The Street Cop material was found to be so egregious that the New Jersey Attorney General required all law enforcement in the state who attended the 2021 conference to participate in a retraining session this year that included information on Fourth Amendment rights and antidiscrimination laws. 

New Jersey, Minnesota, Missouri, Maryland, Illinois, California, Oregon, Nevada and Michigan  have moved to ban the training.

Street Cop instructors visited Oklahoma and garnered praise  

At least two Street Cop instructors who spoke at the 2021 Atlantic City conference have since traveled to Oklahoma for training sessions, according to Street Cop’s Facebook page. 

Zack Miller, one of the speakers at the 2021 conference, traveled to Oklahoma twice in 2023  to teach cops in Durant and Oklahoma City, according to Facebook posts. New Jersey officials also were critical of Miller’s teaching tactics and accused him of encouraging officers to listen to his interpretation of the law over prosecutors and  judges. Miller did not respond to The Frontier’s requests for comment. 

Oklahoma Highway Patrol staff helped promote Street Cop training on an agency-produced podcast. 

Benigno was featured in 2021 on Train Like A Trooper, a podcast produced by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Benigno sat down with Sarah Stewart, the patrol’s communication director and Trooper Mystal Perkins. 

Perkins praised a Street Cop checklist for suspicious behavior and said she used it to train new officers. The New Jersey Comptroller found in its report that the checklist promoted unconstitutional traffic stops. Perkins declined to comment.

Stewart confirmed that Oklahoma Highway Patrol employees have participated in Street Cop training. Oklahoma Highway Patrol has hosted 10 Street Cop Training sessions since 2020. 

The Frontier requested payment records for troopers who had attended the training. But the agency said there were none because it doesn’t reimburse troopers for Street Cop training. 

Stewart said in an email that the agency currently doesn’t have any training planned with Street Cop but didn’t have an answer on whether the agency would stop using Street Cop altogether. 

Some Oklahoma police drop Street Cop 

The Warr Acres Police Department had scheduled a Street Cop course in December promoted by trainer Tom Rizzo. But the agency canceled the training after the report in New Jersey surfaced. New Jersey officials accused Rizzo of mocking police reform efforts during the Atlantic City conference. Rizzo no longer works for Street Cop, according to the New Jersey Comptroller’s report. He didn’t respond to The Frontier’s request for comment.

The Shawnee Police Department, Sapulpa Police Department and Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office said they would no longer allow officers to attend Street Cops training sessions after The Frontier contacted the agencies. 

Three officers from the Shawnee Police Department attended the Street Cop conference in Atlantic City. Shawnee Police Chief Mason Wilson watched videos of the training after The Frontier contacted the agency. He’s decided Street Cop Training doesn’t align with the values of the agency. 

“I do find the methods of Street Cop concerning,” Wilson said. “We would never promote or intentionally attend training that contradicts the Constitution, laws, or our policies and procedures.”

The Sapulpa Police Department has paid Street Cop $7,677 for training sessions since 2020. The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office paid Street Cop $3,739 between 2021 and 2023.

The Norman Police Department stopped using Street Cop Training in January after evaluating the material, a spokeswoman for the agency said. Norman has paid Street Cop $9,047 since  2020. 

The Oklahoma City Police Department also has spent over $2,000 on two Street Cop training courses since 2020. The agency declined to comment on its use of the training. 

Street Cop filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Florida in February and attributed it partly to negative media coverage and the New Jersey Comptroller’s investigation. 

The New Jersey report “caused a significant disruption” for Street Cop, leading to states banning the training and instructors quitting, an attorney wrote in a bankruptcy court filing.

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