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Fear-based training for police officers is challenged

July 12, 2018 GMT

Former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop, took 56 hours of fear-based officer training before Castiles death.

That training, which was recently presented to 37 officers at the Mall of America in Bloomington, was taught by fear-based training pioneer Dave Grossman. The training intentionally targets the emotion of fear. Once an officer makes a decision to take a life, that officer is transformed, said Grossman.

On Wednesday, about 35 people gathered at a community building in Minneapolis to listen to a panel of speakers challenge the safety and truth of allowing police officers to be trained under such an extreme curriculum. The meeting comes at time when the community is seeking answers in the police-involved death of Thurman Blevins, who was killed in north Minneapolis by an officer who teaches similar training.

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This training isnt just theoretical, said Michelle Gross, head of Communities United Against Police Brutality. Its having a real impact on the community.

Fear-based training courses such as Bulletproof Warrior, which was taken by Yanez, are turning police officers into warriors who view the community as enemy combatants, she said. Law enforcement officers all over Minnesota are earning continuing education credit for taking courses that promote the warrior mentally, she added.

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 Grossmans 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 Castiles 2016 death in Falcon Heights. Yanez, who was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter and two other felony charges, was an officer with the St. Anthony Police Department.

Falcon Heights had contracted with St. Anthony for police services but ended the contract after the shooting and instead hired the Ramsey County Sheriffs 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.

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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.

Grossmans 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 during his class.

Simonson had been aware of Grossmans 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 Grossmans classes, she 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 departments policies and the goals of how they serve the community?

David Chanen 612-673-4465