ACLU investigates training courses attended by Cranston police officers

Posted 2/28/24

Cranston police officers were among those who attended training courses run by an organization now banned in nine states for its advocacy of unethical policing strategies and discriminatory rhetoric.

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ACLU investigates training courses attended by Cranston police officers


Cranston police officers were among those who attended training courses run by an organization now banned in nine states for its advocacy of unethical policing strategies and discriminatory rhetoric.

The police training organization Street Cops Training is facing backlash following a report filed by the New Jersey Comptroller’s office in December 2023 detailing an extensive list of misconduct by instructors during a 2021 conference in Atlantic City. Included in the report are a number of profiling tactics for motor vehicle stops which the report characterizes as “unconstitutional,” instructors “glorifying” violence and a militaristic approach to policing, and over 100 discriminatory and harassing remarks, many of which targeting women and minorities. Many of these remarks were attributed to the organization’s founder and CEO, former police officer Dennis Benigno.

A link to the full report can be read here. 

Among the most damning was the report of the behavior of an Instructor Kivet. The report reads:

“Instructor Kivet showed an offensive meme of a monkey in a shirt after describing a motor vehicle stop of a “75 year old Black man coming out of Trenton.”

Written on the slide next to the monkey are the words “SIMPLE QUESTIONS…SIMPLE ANSWERS.”

According to the report, “Benigno acknowledged in a court filing in a lawsuit against OSC that the Conference was ‘standard fare’ for the Company.”

At the conclusion of this article, the Comptroller’s office provided a list of 39 states that made direct payments to Street Cop Training between 2020-2023, among them Rhode Island.

On February 26, The Rhode Island branch of the American Civil Liberties Union announced that they had filed an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request with each police department in the state to see which departments had taken part in training. Following an APRA request, public organizations have up to ten business days to provide the documents requested.

The RI ACLU’s statement reads “The New Jersey report is eye-opening and extraordinarily disturbing. Rhode Islanders deserve to know which police departments sent officers, however unwittingly, to learn how to engage in unconstitutional traffic stops and searches, and whether steps will be taken to retrain them. This revelation only highlights the crucial need for the General Assembly to reinstate the law mandating the collection and review of traffic stop and search data, passage of which has been stymied by law enforcement for four years despite the clear need for its revival.”

The Cranston Police Department was among those departments.

Minutes from the Board of Contract and Purchases for February 15, 2022 and February 7, 2023 list bid waivers in the amounts of $900 and $675 respectively for “Street Cop Training.”

Chief of Police Colonel Winquist confirmed that Cranston police officers attended four total Street Cop Training sessions from March of 2022 to November 2023, held at the Warwick Fraternal Order of Police Hall.

The trainings which Cranston officers attended were as follows. “Deceptive Behaviors and Hidden Compartments” was held on March 28, 2022, attended by four officers; “Rhode Island Case Law/Search and Seizure was held on October 4, 2022, attended by four Cranston officers; The Brick Wall: Stopping Crime on our Roadways was held on February 27, 2023, attended by three officers; and Anatomy of the Criminal Vehicle was held on November 6, 2023, attended by four officers.

According to Colonel Winquist, no Cranston police officer was sent by the department to the 2021 conference in Atlantic City, nor any other conference held by the company.

Winquist was unable to speak in detail on the content of the Warwick training sessions, but said that no reports of the training made by officers who had attended them mentioned unconstitutional search and seizure practices, discriminatory behaviors, or an “us vs. them” mentality. He said officers who attended found the training useful, and that they had “high remarks” regarding the trainers, who they found to be well credentialed and experienced.

However, he also said that they have no intention of sending officers to any further training with the company.

Winquist said “When I read the comments from the ACLU I was taken aback. We do not condone that type of behavior at the Cranston Police Department.”

Winquist said the department will continue to very carefully vet the training they send officers to.

Colonel Winquist, in addition to his role as chief of police in Cranston, is the chair of the Rhode Island Police Officers Commission of Standards and Training (POST). The RI ACLU contacted POST last week to ask them to determine which departments had sent officers to Street Cop Training sessions, to make those findings public, and to take affirmative steps to retrain officers who attended the trainings.

Executive Director for RI ACLU Steven Brown said in an interview with the Herald “Unfortunately, we got a letter back from the Commission in which they stated that they didn't believe it was within their jurisdiction to investigate a matter like this. I think that's very unfortunate. (One would) expect a commission like this to be extremely interested in finding out if officers are getting improper training. But that being the case, we decided to file open records requests with every police department in the state to find out that way what agencies may have been making use of this training program.”

Brown went on to say “Firstly, we want to operate from a knowledge base protocol. We want to find out exactly what has been going on with Rhode Island police departments. After we get a better sense of that, we'll figure out what recommendations we might have to offer to address this, and we certainly think that something needs to be done to correct the improper training that officers may have received by attending these conferences.”

Winquist explained POST’s assertion  that an investigation into Street Cops Training was beyond their duties as a commission.

“The statute is very specific on my duties and the duties of POST,” Winquist said. “Essentially, our role is to approve the curriculum at the municipal police academy and elsewhere. We can obviously set hiring standards and training standards for probationary, non-permanent officers. So, once an officer becomes permanent, which is usually after they complete their probationary period, each department is responsible for any type of continuing education that they provide.

He continued “Some states have certain requirements to complete a certain number of hours of training and Rhode Island, there's no such requirement. So each department determines what their needs are regarding training. Sometimes they'll they'll take care of that in house and other times this expertise in another school such as Street Cop or something like Drug Interdiction, then we do our best to vet these training opportunities that we pay for and then, obviously, we rely on the officers to come back and follow up policies and procedures.”

Following the backlash resulting from the New Jersey Comptroller’s report, Street Cop Training has been banned from operating in nine states, moved its operations to Florida, and filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The organization has made a number of statements on social media, including a statement made Friday on their public Instagram in which they wrote the following.

“To this day still not one real complaint or problem tied back to the 2021 conference. Well one guy said we cursed too much lol. But that’s not bad out of almost 1k in attendance. We literally received a ton of messages from attendees who were of mixed race and gender and told me that it never even crossed their mind that they were offended in any way.”

The statement continued “Yea we dialed back moving forward. We are human. We make mistakes just like our critics who are apparently perfect and flawless at everything they do. We appreciate all the support as it continues to pour in. Thank you all so much.”

The organization also has a private Instagram account, to which you must send a message to with proof that you are a member of Law Enforcement before you are allowed to see its 4000+ posts. That account has over 16,000 followers.

police, cops, training, investigation


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