In Brief

Police training firm seeks court review of ‘government overreach,’ stalling state probe

By: - January 20, 2023 11:16 am

Street Cop Training is asking for a state Supreme Court review in its fight against a watchdog's subpoena for documents regarding a controversial conference in Atlantic City. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

A private police training agency has asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to review a lower court’s ruling requiring it to comply with a state watchdog’s investigation into police departments that used public money to send officers to a controversial conference.

Investigators in the Office of the State Comptroller last summer subpoenaed documents from Street Cop Training to learn who attended the conference, how they paid for it, and what the 1,000 attendees learned there. The five-day event, held at an Atlantic City casino in October 2021, featured Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren and other conservative speakers.

Street Cop fought the subpoena, calling it a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unjust search and seizure of private records. The firm also counter-filed records requests, demanding documents from the comptroller’s office to learn whether investigators there sought records from any other police training vendors.

An appellate panel in November ruled against Street Cop in its subpoena fight. Last month, Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy rejected Street Cop’s records request, writing: “It would severely undermine OSC’s investigative powers and prerogatives to force it to open its investigative playbook to a private vendor presently under investigation.”

This week, Street Cop appealed the records denial. Separately, the appellate court stayed their November decision that required Street Cop to comply with the comptroller’s subpoena until the Supreme Court decides whether to weigh in.

Street Cop’s attorney celebrated the stay as good news for its fight against “government overreach.”

“The ruling to stay the subpoena signals that the Appellate Division recognizes that the Supreme Court may be concerned about government overreach and the constitutional right to privacy, and we hope it is the first step in holding government agencies accountable and ensuring transparency about their activities,” attorney Jonathan Cohen said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office said they couldn’t comment on pending legal matters.

The conference, which cost $499 to attend, made national headlines after Lahren and other speakers cheered police, dismissed police reform efforts, blamed anti-police sentiment on mainstream media, and encouraged police violence. “Be the calmest person in the room, but have a plan to kill everyone,” one speaker told the audience, according to the Washington Post.

Street Cop is the largest police training organization in the nation. It has trained more than 40,000 law enforcement officers since it was founded in 2012 by Dennis Benigno, a former Middlesex County correctional officer and Woodbridge police officer.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.