An architect of controversial police training, aimed at readying officers for the moment they kill someone and how they’ll react to it, is scheduled to hold a seminar for Spokane-area officers in October.
In the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and subsequent protests in Spokane that turned chaotic, the seminar has come under renewed scrutiny and shared widely on social media this week.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, one of the country’s most prominent and popular law enforcement trainers whose philosophies are the subject of regular criticism, will host a session at the Spokane County Sheriff’s Training Center. He’ll be joined by Dave “JD Buck Savage” Smith, another frequent speaker at police training events across the country.
The flyer for the “mindset bootcamp” event purports to offer two “unforgettable days of training” that will include topics such as “combat preparation for your spouse and family,” active shooter situations and what makes a person a “winner.”
The session will also cover “WINNING when you’re wounded,” and “why ‘survival’ is minimalistic and we must train to WIN!”
The sheriff’s office invites instructors to Spokane as a way to offer expertise not available locally and to help avoid the cost of sending deputies to trainings elsewhere, Cpl. Mark Gregory said.
The sheriff’s office will often get a limited number of free seats or a discount on tuition as the hosting party.
“That helps us out and helps keep cost down,” Gregory said of providing a space for trainings.
Deputies are not required to attend, but the sheriff’s office often will pay for officers’ tuition if funds are available and staffing levels allow.
The session will encompass Grossman’s “Bulletproof Mind” and “The Winning Mind” courses.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich ardently defended the trainings in an interview with The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday and has no plans to cancel them. Julie Humphreys, a spokesperson for the Spokane Police Department, said the department had no role in planning the training and did not plan to take a stance on it.
Knezovich said the training does not promote violence, but explains that “you might have to use force, and here’s what happens to you if you have to use force.”
“I am tired of being bullied by political rights and left. I will do the best I can for this community, and we will provide the best training we can for our community, our deputies and the officers within this community. That is our commitment,” Knezovich said.
Grossman’s critics question his fear-based training, which repeatedly stresses the wide range of threats first responders face every day, including terrorism and mass shootings. Participants are also regularly reminded that they are at “war.”
“If you act in fear, you’re going to act in a way that’s not necessarily rational and is going to result in violence. We need officers who are focused on de-escalation, that are resolving a situation in a way that’s going to cause the least amount of harm,” said Rick Eichstaedt, a Spokane attorney and former head of the Center for Justice who has advocated for police reform.
Paul Dillon heard about the training from a co-worker at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, Jessica Lucht, and flagged Grossman’s training in a Facebook post this week.
“His comments to audiences that killing can lead to great sex, that killing is not that big of a deal, are gross and disgusting. This should be a wake-up call for the community,” Dillon said. “I think if the Sheriff and (Spokane Police) Chief (Craig) Meidl, who have claimed to support the reasons behind the protests actually did, they would denounce or cancel the training.”
Grossman said he has been the target of character assassination and “twisted misrepresentations” of his teachings.
Numerous unflattering profiles of Grossman and his preachings have appeared in news websites and magazines in recent years.
He was the subject of an Insider.com article this week headlined “one of America’s most popular police trainers is teaching officers how to kill with fear-based warrior tactics.”
The article quoted Grossman in a training session filmed for the 2016 documentary “Do Not Resist.”
“I am convinced from a lifetime of study, if you fully prepare yourself, in most cases killing is just not that big of a deal. For a mature warrior who has prepared their self’s mind, body and spirit for a lifetime, for a mature warrior whose killing represents a clear and present danger to others, it’s just not that big of a deal,” Grossman said in the recorded training.
In 2017, Mother Jones reporter Bryan Schatz attended one of Grossman’s sessions and quoted him as saying, “We fight violence. What do we fight it with? Superior violence. Righteous violence.”
Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who shot and killed 32-year-old Philando Castile in 2016, took more than 50 hours of fear-based training, including the “Bulletproof Warrior” course, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. Yanez was later acquitted of charges against him, but last year, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced a policy that banned fear-based training.
The “warrior” mentality imbued in Grossman’s teaching is also not endorsed by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
Sean Hendrickson teaches a class called “The Philosophical Warrior” at CJTC in his role as de-escalation program manager.
Hendrickson discusses the sheepdog analogy, taught by Grossman and others in military and police training. Hendrickson said the way Grossman teaches the analogy is too simplistic and doesn’t reflect the nuance needed everyday community policing.
The sheepdog analogy casts the community as sheep going about their daily lives. Criminals are cast as wolves, who are predators out to get the sheep. Law enforcement officers or military members are the sheepdogs, “a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed,” according to Grossman’s website.
“To equate people to sheep walking around with their head down trying not to get hurt by predators, that’s a little bit different than my take on it,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson highlights that a sheepdog isn’t there to “kip at the heels of the sheep” but instead is part of the flock when not acting as a guardian.
“When you say that there’s these three things and you have to fit into these three roles … you’re missing out on the nuance,” Hendrickson said. “As police officers you’re also supposed to be citizens – community members.”
CJTC has moved away from the “warrior” mentality and instead toward the guardian model of police instruction under Executive Director Sue Rahr.
“Although police officers wear uniforms and carry weapons, the similarity ends there. Their missions and rules of engagement are completely different. The soldier’s primary mission is that of a warrior: to conquer,” Stephen K. Rice and Rahr wrote in 2015.
“The guardian is more than just a warrior and I think that sometimes that’s where this analogy might fall down,” Hendrickson said. “This warrior identity is super attractive to a lot of people, and I think this analogy really speaks to that.”
Grossman said being a warrior is not the focus of his training and that it only comes up once or twice in a two-day presentation.
“We’re at war, but at the same time, don’t take that warrior model too far,” Grossman told The Spokesman-Review. “We’ve got to have a foot in both camps.”
The profiles and articles about Grossman – and the quotes in them – are out of context, both he and Knezovich, who invited Grossman to Spokane, argue.
Knezovich said the comments regularly cited in news articles about Grossman are just snippets of snippets. He’s seen Grossman speak five times over the last 15 years, and said Grossman doesn’t teach officers how to be aggressive.
Instead, Knezovich said, Grossman focuses on what will happen if and when a police officer has to use deadly force.
“We would be negligent not to train our personnel on the fact that you may run into that one person you’re never going to be able de-escalate no matter how hard you try,” Knezovich said.
Grossman said that once that happens, “Here’s what’s going to happen to you.”
Knezovich said he’s watched the lives of young officers unravel after they’ve used force because they were unprepared for the trauma that comes with it.
Grossman’s trainings aren’t based in fear, but reality, argued Knezovich, who has himself hosted an event called “The Threats We Face.”
Grossman is the director and pioneer of the Killology Research Group, which defines killology as “the reactions of healthy people in killing circumstances (such as police and military in combat) and the factors that enable and restrain killing in these situations.”
Grossman regularly preaches to his audience of law enforcement officers that they are at war, but said officers “can’t take the military model too far.”
“Our goal is never to kill. When we shoot, we’re using deadly force because we sincerely believe there’s imminent threat,” Grossman said.
Still, his training focuses on what will happen if and when an officer does kill, and preparing for that moment.
“As a result of what we do, there is a chance that people will die, and if you haven’t recognized that, we haven’t recognized that possibility … your mind has got to be prepared to live with what your body has to do,” Grossman said.
Smith, Grossman’s partner in the upcoming training, said his “mindset teaching is believe in yourself, believe in your skills.”
“My emphasis has always been, ‘Let’s take care of our community, take care of the people.’ ”
He said he does not advocate that officers act out of fear.
“Where you see these guys getting beat up by the cops, the cops are panicking because they’re not able to gain control. That’s a fear response,” Smith said.
Still, like Grossman, Smith stressed that officers have to be mentally prepared to use deadly force.
“I teach people not to hurt people and to try not to hurt people, but there may come a time when you have to,” Smith said. “If you tell me you could never defend my life, I don’t want (you) wearing a badge.”
Police use of force is once again in the spotlight nationally and locally in the wake of Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with second-degree murder.
Smith said what the officers did in Minneapolis runs “contrary to our training.”
“Once you get compliance, you stop, you don’t continue to use a control technique,” Smith said.
Encouraging officers to speak up when fellow law enforcement over step, like other officers around Chauvin did not do in Floyd’s case, is a key part of what Hendrickson teaches at CJTC.
Under the guardian model, Hendrickson teaches courage as a key characteristic, which embodies the idea of “doing the right thing no matter the consequences.”
Doing the right thing, in Hendrickson’s mind, includes telling fellow officers when they’re wrong or over stepping their bounds.
“It’s difficult. I’ve let someone get under my skin,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve actually been lucky where I’ve had a partner grab me by the uniform and say, ‘You step away I’ll handle it.’ That’s a difficult thing in the moment to accept.”
Hendrickson cited Ethical Policing Is Courageous, or EPIC, in New Orleans as an example of rewarding officers for holding each other accountable while also encouraging officers to take feedback.
“When we talk about the culture of policing, this starts at the top and it has to work it’s way all the way down to the line officers,” Hendrickson said.
Knezovich said he would never attempt to justify Floyd’s death.
“What happened in Minneapolis, that was inexcusable and that was stupid,” Knezovich said.
But when it comes to the resulting outcry and unrest, Knezovich points a finger at the media.
In Minneapolis, it “was an individual, it wasn’t the system,” Knezovich said. “You, the national media, you all break down at that point. You want to go with, ‘It’s the entire system.’ ”
Grossman, likewise, blames the media.
“The media’s feeding it, and we’re feeding this monster,’ Grossman said.
Grossman said protestors have a right to protest, but when they “become violent, it’s no longer a constitutional right.”
He’s transparently partisan, and noted that riots are almost always in cities with Democratic leadership. He predicted that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio would be unable to win re-election and ridiculed his failed run for president. He found it fitting that CNN would have windows at its headquarters in Atlanta broken.
“What we’re seeing is almost a manifestation of left-wing politics,” Grossman said.
Knezovich attributes the backlash to Grossman’s training to “socialist little individuals who don’t understand what it’s really like to be out there.”
“We live with the fact that we have to use force on somebody,” Knezovich said.
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