During his State of the City address on April 18, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced that the city will ban its police officers from participating in “warrior-style” training, even when it’s self-funded and off duty.
While the Minneapolis Police Department doesn’t currently offer any fear-based trainings, they “remain available to officers off-duty,” Frey said. “That’s why today we’re announcing that the Minneapolis Police Department will be — we believe — the first major department in the nation to prohibit fear-based training” both on and off-duty.
“Warrior-style” training takes a fear-based approach to policing that prioritizes officer safety over community safety by conditioning trainees to view all encounters as inherently dangerous. The most well-known examples are offered by retired Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman and his Grossman Academy. The philosophy behind his courses and his book, “On Killing,” is this: Both soldiers and police officers should be trained to kill with less hesitation.
After praising the department for various achievements like offering wellness trainings to help officers combat the trauma they experience on the job, Frey explained that the popular fear-based trainings run counter to the department’s vision.
“There are external trainings that have no place in the vision and culture shift outlined by our chief. Chief Medaria Arradondo’s MPD rests on trust, accountability, and professional service. Whereas fear-based, warrior-style trainings like ‘killology’ are in direct conflict with everything that our chief and I stand for in our police department,” Frey said.
“Fear-based trainings violate the values at the very heart of community policing. When you’re conditioned to believe that every person encountered poses a threat to your existence, you simply cannot be expected to build meaningful relationships with those same people.”
“Basically, the issue is that Grossman’s ‘killology’ idea and course has no scientific basis in reality,” says Michelle Gross, the president of Minneapolis’ Communities United Against Police Brutality. Gross’ organization has met with Mayor Frey and has been working with Chief Arradondo since he assumed the role in 2017 to oust fear-based training, a term Gross says her organization coined in order to describe trainings like Grossman’s and more.
“We wanted to make it clear that these trainings are under all kinds of names and have a very powerful influence on police,” she says.
Gross, who became interested police brutality activism after experiencing it herself, sees no need for the warrior-style trainings that Frey has moved to eliminate. “This kind of training where danger is lurking at every corner and you should be prepared to gun down people … basically teaches officers to be fearful when they don’t need to be. What we see as a result is what’s happened with Officer Yanez who killed Philando Castile.” Yanez had taken a “Bulletproof Warrior” seminar through Grossman’s organization before the 2016 traffic stop in which he shot Castile.
Frey’s announcement comes as another police brutality trial is underway in the Twin Cities, this time of Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Justine Damond in Minneapolis in 2017.
Not everyone is pleased with the announcement. Last week, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis — the union that represents officers, sergeants, and lieutenants across the MPD and park police — announced an exclusive partnership with Law Officer, a self-described “industry leader” in law enforcement training, to provide fear-based training through the company’s website and app for the rest of Frey’s term for free, defying Frey’s ban.
Travis Yates, director of training for Law Officer, said in a press release that “it is both an honor and a privilege to provide the heroes of the Minneapolis Police Department daily training that can ensure they will return home each day to their family regardless of the dangers that they may face and the ignorance of some politicians.”
In the release, President of the Police Officer’s Federation of Minneapolis Lt. Bob Kroll thanked Law Officer for defying the mayor, adding that “while it seems that the lives of our officers are not important to politicians, they certainly are by Law Officer and we are grateful for this partnership.”
In response, Frey has doubled down on his commitment to ban the trainings. “We have adopted this new policy because proper training on use of force and de-escalation is of paramount importance,” Mayor Frey said in a statement. “Officers found to pursue any training that conflicts with MPD’s training and has not been preapproved will be subject to discipline.” Chief Arradondo’s public information officer refused to make him available for this story.
The move could set the stage for a court case, and the union, at least, is ready. “We’ve ran it by our attorneys and are prepared to go down that route … for unfair labor practices,” Kroll told Next City.
Last week, union leadership met with Chief Arradondo, but no agreement has been reached, the Star Tribune reported.
In the meantime, Gross remains hopeful as her organization continues to combat police brutalities.
“Getting rid of this training is a life-saving measure because [the training] promotes killing more people. We would like it if they didn’t kill anybody at all,” she says. “I hope it’s a chance to change the culture of policing and … change it in a way that police will be less likely to kill people and less likely to be brutal and more prone to use methods of de-escalation.”
UPDATE: We’ve corrected Michelle Gross’s title.
Cinnamon Janzer is a freelance journalist based in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, U.S. News & World Report, Rewire.news, and more. She holds an MA in Social Design, with a specialization in intervention design, from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a BA in Cultural Anthropology and Fine Art from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.