Florida Police Departments Spent Thousands on Training Seminars Banned in 9 States

A New Jersey government watchdog said Street Cop Training instructors glorified violence, made discriminatory remarks, and offered unprofessional and unconstitutional advice to officers.


Police and sheriff's departments across Florida spent thousands of dollars sending officers to training conferences that have been banned in nine other states after being accused of promoting unconstitutional tactics and glorifying violence.

Reason obtained invoices through public records requests showing that a dozen of Florida's largest law enforcement agencies spent $31,377 on training seminars hosted by Street Cop Training, a New Jersey-based company, between 2020 and 2023.

The company has been under intense scrutiny since the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller issued a scathing report in December detailing a 2021 Street Cop Training conference in Atlantic City where instructors made discriminatory and unprofessional remarks. At the conference, one instructor flashed a picture of a monkey when talking about an elderly black man, and the founder of the company said that refusing to consent to a police search was justification for prolonging an investigation. Since then, New Jersey has ordered retraining for all officers who attended Street Cop conferences, and the company has declared bankruptcy.

The Florida invoices shed light on Street Cop's foothold in one of the most populous states. Despite the turbulent times for the company, it is soldiering on in the Sunshine State. As Florida Today's John Torres noted in a recent op-ed, Orlando is hosting the 2024 Street Cop Conference this week.

Not only that, but Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey is a speaker at the conference.

Torres noted with disdain that taxpayers were footing the bill to send officers to these conferences.

"Locally, at least one Melbourne officer is attending the training with the department paying for it," Torres wrote. "Palm Bay and Cocoa have none and the Brevard County Sheriff's Department did not respond to my inquiry about how many deputies were attending. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement could not tell me how many officers were attending."

It would probably not surprise Torres to learn that the Brevard County Sheriff's Office spent the most out of any agency that has so far responded to Reason's records requests. Street Cop invoices to the agency total $7,825 between 2020 and 2023.

The next biggest spender was the Osceola County Sheriff's Office with $7,085, followed by the Seminole County Sheriff's Department at $6,604.

Six Florida Highway Patrol officers attended Street Cop training seminars during that time period, according to records.

To compile this report, Reason filed 28 public records requests to the largest police departments and sheriff's offices in Florida. Nine agencies said they had no responsive records. Seven requests are still pending, including from populous jurisdictions such as Broward and Orange County.

Street Cop Training was founded in 2012 by Dennis Benigno, a former New Jersey police officer. It runs training conferences for thousands of police officers around the country, but flew under the radar until New Jersey Comptroller Kevin Walsh's December report. The report documented dozens upon dozens of lewd and discriminatory remarks by instructors and comments glorifying violence.

More concerning than the constant middle-school jokes about penis size, though, were the substance of the presentations. For example, Benigno and other instructors at the Atlantic City conference insisted that refusing to consent to a search of one's vehicle—a constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment—was suspicious and should be used as justification for prolonging a search or detention.

The comptroller investigation found that there was "an entire section of Benigno's training during the Conference dedicated to an 'I Do Not Consent Game,' during which Benigno shows a montage of people refusing consent in an attempt to illustrate that a motorist's refusal to consent is a suspicious factor that justifies further prolonging an investigative detention."

The comptroller's office found that multiple instructors told officers to use a "reasonable suspicion" checklist to decide whether to find a reason to pull someone over or extend a traffic stop. The checklist included a long list of vague and contradictory behavior, including the driver not looking at a police car when passing, looking too long at a police car when passing, wearing a hat, removing a hat when an officer approaches, looking back at their vehicle, leaning against their vehicle, smoking, stretching or yawning, and licking their lips.

"Because none of these factors are more consistent with guilt than innocence, a stop based on a combination of those factors alone—without some additional factor that suggests criminality—would be unconstitutional," the New Jersey Comptroller's Office concluded.

Benigno also mocked people who record the police during traffic stops, saying that person was about to "get pepper sprayed, fucking tased, windows broken out, motherfucker." Recording the police is a First Amendment right.

One Street Cop instructor in Louisiana livestreamed himself shooting at a fleeing vehicle and later bragged about it at the Atlantic City conference. "Run from me, somewhere along the chase becomes, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow," he said. The deputy has since been charged with illegal discharge of a firearm and obstruction of justice.

The report found that at least New Jersey spent at least $75,000 in public funds sending officers to the Atlantic City conference.

Benigno said in the wake of the report that he was tightening professional standards for the conferences and making other changes, but he denied that the company promoted unconstitutional tactics.

In a lengthy statement to Florida news outlet WESH last week, Benigno said in part: "The context of the Fourth Amendment training at the October conference and the implications that the training was unconstitutional is completely baseless. Officers in attendance have already completed police academy and understand the context in which the training is provided."

Not all of the public records identify which seminars officers attended, but at least some of them involved traffic stops and interdiction. One officer from the Tallahassee Police Department attended a 2021 Street Cop Training class titled "identifying criminal vehicles and occupants," and a Duval County Sheriff's deputy attended "interdiction mastermind."

The Volusia Sheriff's Office paid for five deputies to attend seminars that included "unmasking facial expressions" and "body language for law enforcement."

The ability to reliably detect lies or guilt by reading facial expressions and body language has never been replicated in controlled studies. It's pseudo-science, but it has nevertheless remained popular among law enforcement because it gives officers a wide-ranging and often contradictory list of cues to confirm their suspicions. (Walsh's report also notes that "some other controversial factors [on the checklist] are observing 'micro-expressions' as taught through free online videos and assessing 'blink rate.'")

The controversy over Street Cop Training has led some Florida sheriff's offices to distance themselves from the company.

A spokesperson for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office says none of its members will be presenting or attending this year. The Volusia County Sheriff also told local media that he wouldn't be sending deputies to the conference.

Meanwhile, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey remains a staunch defender of the company.

"This is all a bunch of crap," Ivey said of Walsh's report. 

Ivey was a paid consultant at a Street Cop conference last year in Nashville.