Five police trainers identified by Reuters were found to have far-right ties through their political commentary on social media. Their views consist of QAnon conspiracies, racial slurs and homophobic/transphobic language. Though the trainers denied allowing their beliefs to get in the way of teaching, the influence their views can have on the people they teach raises concern.
Take Richard Whitehead for example. Reuters reported he was listed as a member of the Oath Keepers (far-right anti-government group), mocked transgender individuals and was accused by students for using offensive slurs and blatant misogyny.
“Suspect is a gender-fluid assigned-male-at-birth wearing non-gender-specific clothing born Caucasian but identifies as a mountain panda,” he in an interview, per Reuters.
He’s taught at least 560 officers. Whitehead along with the four other trainers Reuters identified work for one of 35 training firms that promote police training sessions.
More on the trainers from Reuters:
The five trainers have aired views including the belief in a vote-rigging conspiracy to unseat Trump in the 2020 election. One trainer attended Trump’s January 6, 2021, rally at the U.S. Capitol that devolved into a riot, injuring more than 100 police officers. Two of the trainers have falsely asserted that prominent Democrats including President Joe Biden are pedophiles, a core tenet of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Four have endorsed or posted records of their past interactions with far-right extremist figures, including prominent “constitutional sheriff” leader David Clarke Jr. and Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, who is being prosecuted for his involvement in the Capitol riots.
Another trainer, Tim Kennedy, was found to have shown support for the boogaloo movement on social media. He also exchanged messages with Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, who is currently facing prosecution for his involvement with the Jan 6 insurrection, according to Reuters.
People like Whitehead and Kennedy aren’t the only problem to police training. There is also an issue with how they train, privately and unregulated. According to Reuters, private trainers lack standards and oversight that would help them understand how to approach situations without excessive force.
Instead, students may learn an exaggerated version of the threats they may face which can lead to police shooting and killing civilians.
More from Reuters:
U.S. law enforcement officers receive far less initial training at police academies than their counterparts in comparable countries, said Arjun Sethi, a Georgetown University adjunct law professor and policing specialist. That opens “immense commercial opportunities” for private trainers to fill the void with ongoing training of active-duty officers, often “in a politicized manner” that normalizes biased policing against Black people and other communities, he said.
Additionally, FBI data from 2019 found the number of line-of-duty deaths has declined significantly over the last 50 years. So, those threatening situations trainers are preparing officers for may be even less likely to occur.
As the debate continues over police reform and funding, there are even more factors to consider when trying to figure out how to create a healthier dynamic between people and police.