- Dave Grossman’s “Bulletproof Mind” is teaching law enforcement agencies across the United States militarised tactics in which officers are told to see themselves as “at war” on the streets.
- The retired Army ranger and former West Point instructor has been teaching his classes for more than two decades.
- He focuses on a concept he’s dubbed “killology,” or the study of killing, and uses it to teach officers to kill with less hesitation.
- Agencies have started turning away from the courses in recent years, after it was discovered the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile had taken one of Grossman’s courses.
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One of America’s top police trainers is teaching officers to be “emotionally, spiritually, psychologically” prepared to kill people on the job.
If you’re prepared to kill, Dave Grossman, says, it’s “just not that big of a deal.”
“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 2015, while speaking in front of a group in a segment filmed for the 2016 police militarization documentary “Do Not Resist.”
Grossman also enticed his audience by noting that killing can lead to great sex.
“Both partners are very invested in some very intense sex. There’s not a whole lot of perks that come with this job. You find one, relax and enjoy it,” he said in the same course.
The retired Army ranger and former West Point instructor, teaches a course called “The Bulletproof Mind,” where he teaches officers the logic behind killing. He offers online classes through Grossman Academy for $US79.
His overly aggressive style prepares law enforcement officers for a job under siege, where they’re front line troops who are “at war” with the streets. Officers need to be prepared to battle the communities they’re told to protect, Grossman has said. And ideally in Grossman’s eyes, officers need to learn to kill less hesitantly.
Grossman, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Insider, is part of a larger industry of controversial militarised and fear-based police training educators, that also includes psychologist William Lewinski at the Force Science Institute in Minnesota, whose work has been called “pseudoscience” by the American Journal of Psychology.
Law enforcement agencies including the Los Angles Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and hundreds of other jurisdictions have taken Grossman’s courses over the last 22 years, Grossman told Men’s Journal in 2017. At least one police shooting death has been connected to the course – the 2016 killing of Philando Castile. The officer who killed Castile had taken a Bulletproof class with Grossman just two years before the shooting.
Grossman’s courses focus on the study of killing, or ‘killology’
Since retiring from the US Army in 1998, Grossman has travelled to all 50 states to teach his Bulletproof courses to law enforcement agencies, according to his website. Grossman’s bio on the website says he’s on the road “almost 300 days a year” teaching seminars.
As part of the course, Grossman is paid by local law enforcement departments to train officers in his warrior-based philosophy of “killology,” which he describes 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.”
For years his classes were held through the Illinois-based organisation Calibre Press that, according to its website, works to train “smarter, safer, more successful law enforcement officers.”
Calibre Press told Insider that it no longer offers Grossman’s Bulletproof courses. Yet, there is still a class called “Bulletproof: Training by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (KRG, LLC) and Calibre Press, LLC” available on its website. The courses range in price from $US239 to $US279 per person, with upcoming seminars being hosted by police departments in Kansas City, Missouri; Chandler, Arizona; Richmond, Washington; and Schaumburg, Illinois, as well as by a community college’s police academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and by the security at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.
A Bulletproof manual from Calibre features data on “combat efficiency,” “perceptual distortions in combat,” and post-traumatic stress disorder, and includes information on “fear-induced heart rate increase,” surviving gunshot wounds, and Bible verses that distinguish killing from murder.
“What does a predator do? They kill. Only a killer can hunt a killer,” Grossman said at one seminar filmed by The New Yorker. “Are you emotionally, spiritually, psychologically prepared to snuff out a human life in defence of innocent lives?”
Craig Atkinson, the filmmaker behind “Do Not Resist,” told Insider that he attended one of Grossman’s Bulletproof courses upon an invitation from the Ohio State Patrol’s SWAT team in 2015.
He said Grossman’s military background seemingly makes it difficult to distinguish at-war soldiers from police trying to protect a community.
“He doesn’t see the separation between Fallujah and Ferguson,” Atkinson told Insider. “And so he thinks of the police as the first line of defence to Al Qaeda, and there’s no difference.”
He said he and a producer who attended the session were “appalled” by what Grossman was teaching law enforcement.
“Obviously not all cops are bad, but you take good cops and you give them warrior training and you quickly have an outcome that we see moving across this country right now,” Atkinson said, referencing the militarization of police in the US.
Grossman’s course faced criticism from a watchdog agency after Philando Castile’s death
Grossman’s course came under scrutiny in 2016, when it was revealed that St. Anthony Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot Castile during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis, had taken a Bulletproof Warrior years earlier. In 2017, Yanez was found not guilty on all charges in connection to shooting and killing Castile.
The Minneapolis-based watchdog organisation Communities United Against Police Brutality said in a 2018 information pamphlet shared with Insider that the claims Grossman makes in his courses are “Like a foundation full of cracks.” The organisation said much of Grossman’s work is unverified and lacks peer reviews.
“It’s one thing to claim to discover a phenomenon that’s under-researched and then try to learn more for the general advancement of knowledge. It’s another thing to operationalize ideas drawn from controversial, fatally-flawed, non-peer-reviewed research. And that’s what Grossman is doing: Preparing police officers to interact with the public they serve by telling them they are “warriors,” by insisting that “WE. ARE. AT. WAR.!,” and by encouraging them to question any previous training they have undergone,” the organisation said in 2018.
The organisation added: “Grossman routinely puts cops on high alert in his seminars by insisting on a mythical exploding murder rate or decrying ‘the systematic ambush, murder, and execution of cops.’ Officers routinely hear that ‘every single traffic stop could be, might be, the last stop you ever make in your life.’ Awakening officers’ fear that their work continually puts them in lethal danger, Grossman begins cultivating fear of the public and a readiness to kill.”
Some departments are even turning toward less aggressive tactics, and are using what the National Institute of Justice has deemed “Guardian” mentality, a type of training that works to de-escalate conflict while focusing on communication, criminal justice education, ethics, and empathy.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have also recently come together to shut down a Pentagon program that provides military gear to local law enforcement agencies. The program, and the move to militarize the police, had been championed by Trump.
One use-of-force expert says warrior training courses like Grossman’s are ‘counterproductive’
Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who is now a use-of-force expert and associate professor at the University of South Carolina Law School, told Insider that the issue with Grossman’s warrior mentality is that it’s not being used properly.
“In its most restrictive sense, the idea of a warrior mentality or the warrior mindset is to remind officers in life-threatening situations to have the mental tenacity and grit they need to survive,” he said. “It’s become a much broader metaphor for all aspects of policing, and it’s contributed to a very adversarial approach to policing, where officers are told that they are superheroes doing battle with the forces of evil, that they’re soldiers on the front line in a war against anarchy.”
“If officers look at the people that they interact with as enemy combatants, as potential threats instead of community members whom officers are supposed to be serving and protecting, it’s really not a surprise when they disregard the value of someone’s life,” Stoughton.
The US has a use-of-force problem that goes beyond Grossman’s course
Grossman’s seminars, of course, aren’t the only thing leading cops to kill, and police brutality has been an issue long before militarization techniques became popular. And use-of-force is still an issue among police departments that have banned courses like Grossman’s.
Inconsistent policies and trainings among law enforcement agencies, lack of accountability, and centuries of racial inequality and injustice in the US all contribute to a proportionally larger number of people in the black community to die at the hands of cops.
Use of force is a key component in the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes, during which he repeatedly told the officer “I can’t breathe.”
Four police officers were fired after Floyd’s death, including Derek Chauvin, who was filmed kneeling on his neck and was later charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin and another fired officer, Tou Thao, both have a history of use of force.
In Minneapolis, under the police department’s use-of-force policy, officers are still allowed to de-escalate a situation by putting a knee on a suspect’s neck, but only those who have been trained on how to do so without putting direct pressure on the person’s airway are allowed to use the move.
After a family received a $US3 million payout from Minneapolis in 2013 following the death of a David Smith – a young black man who the police shot with a stun gun and held on the ground with a knee on his back for four minutes – all Minneapolis police officers were supposed to be retrained on how to restrain suspects, according to a 2013 Minneapolis Star Tribune article. Both Chauvin and Thao were on the force when retraining classes were said to be carried out, and use-of-force experts have criticised his actions leading up to Floyd’s death.
Minneapolis banned warrior-style training in 2019
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey banned warrior-style training in Minneapolis in April 2019, calling it “fear-based.”
“Fear-based trainings violate the values at the very heart of community policing,” Frey said when he banned Bulletproof training from Minneapolis. “When you’re conditioned to believe that every person encountered poses a threat to your existence, you simply cannot be expected to build out meaningful relationships with those same people.”
But Grossman’s course is still continuing elsewhere.
Atkinson told Insider that if police departments decide to continue to promote warrior training, they need to balance their training with de-escalation techniques that teach officers how to respond to heightened situations with proper communication. He also urged law enforcement agencies to destigmatize mental illness, and include trainings on trauma and mental health.
“You can’t just send people out there with one side of the equation and expect that it’s not going to get universally applied,” he said.
Atkinson, the filmmaker, called warrior training the “number-one issue” that’s getting people unnecessarily killed by police.
“If we really want to get down to the root of why all these killings are happening, this warrior training 100% has to be put under a microscope and analysed. People need to ask the question: Is this still the appropriate training for what we’re asking our cops to be on a day-to-day basis?” Atkinson said, later adding: “If cops got less of this training, less people would die. There’s no question about that.”
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- Tear gas is banned from war – but police still shoot it at protesters, who cough and bleed as a result. At least one has lost an eye.
- 2 Atlanta police officers who were charged after Tasing college students during an arrest went through use-of-force and de-escalation training in the last 2 months
- protests George Floyd’s death exposes trend showing that police officers accused of serious misconduct often already have complaints on their records
- Derek Chauvin had 16 complaints made against him that were closed with ‘no discipline.’ A former member of the police review board says that’s proof of a broken system.