Community members and activists came together Wednesday to criticize the controversial "fear-based" police officer training used by local officers involved in two deaths.
The training was taught by fear-based training pioneer Dave Grossman. The premise of his classes is that officers are "at war" on the domestic front and need psychological training to become "warriors" to overcome their resistance to killing. If not, they could be killed in the line of duty, he says.
Former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop, took 56 hours of "fear-based" training before Castile's death. Minneapolis officer Justin Schmidt, who killed Thurman Blevins in a North Side alley last month, teaches similar training.
About 35 people attended the meeting in Minneapolis, which comes as the community is seeking answers in Blevins' death.
On Thursday, the head of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will discuss the case at Webber Park community center in north Minneapolis.
"This training isn't just theoretical," said Michelle Gross, head of Communities United Against Police Brutality. "It's having a real impact on the community."
That training, which Grossman recently presented to 37 officers at the Mall of America in Bloomington, intentionally targets the emotion of fear. Once an officer makes a decision to take a life, that officer is transformed, he said. Last year, 1,147 people were killed by police.
Fear-based training courses such as "Bulletproof Warrior," which Yanez took, are turning police officers into "warriors" who view the community as "enemy combatants," said Gross. The Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training Board has approved hundreds of Grossman's courses for continuing education credit, she added.
Yet major police policy organizations, such as the Police Executive Research Forum and International Association of Chiefs of Police have repudiated Grossman's training.
The meeting, developed by the Coalition to End Fear-Based Training, included presentations from criminal justice professor Raj Sethuraju, researcher Rachael Rivard, mental health professional Sandi Simonson and civil rights attorney Robin Magee.
The group produced a short video showing snippets of Grossman's classes and field training. Grossman, who says he is a former Army ranger, started teaching his "killology" methods more than 20 years ago. He is booked for more than 200 dates each year and has trained more than 20,000 officers. The Legislature unsuccessfully tried to outlaw this type of training in 2002.
The video includes the cellphone video of Castile's 2016 death in Falcon Heights. Yanez was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter and two other felony charges.
Falcon Heights had contracted with St. Anthony, where Yanez was employed, for police services but ended the contract after the shooting and instead hired the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
Grossman tells officers that "only a killer can hurt a killer." He asks them if "you are willing to snuff out a life to protect innocent people."
When he surveyed officers about deadly shootings, the concern he most often heard was over liability and lawsuits. He stressed to officers to "shoot first and worry about questions later."
Grossman's training is taught to officers, but also to first responders, schools, churches and civilians. Every encounter with a person could be your last, he said at his class.
Simonson had been aware of Grossman's training since the state tried to ban his classes. She is worried about the psychological ramifications of fear-based training for officers.
After one of Grossman's classes, Simonson talked to a person who said the training left her feeling awful and fearful. A main component of the class is teaching officers to be able to "turn your killing instinct on and off like a faucet." But the training, she said, never deals with turning off the faucet.
"The community has to be more aware of what kind of training officers are receiving," she said. "Does this training fit into a department's policies and the goals of how they serve the community?"
Rivard started looking into Grossman's training about two years ago and found it "inflammatory, disgusting and scary for us as a community." She said many of the claims he makes, such as being a Pulitzer Prize nominated author and an Army Ranger, are untrue.
"The man who is presenting fear-based training to officers is not representing himself honestly," she said.
Reviews of his classes say he's an incredible speaker, but Grossman is a fear-monger who tells officers they need to know "all about violence," she said.
"Police departments have to think critically about the spin in these classes," said Rivard. "This is why he is so dangerous."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465