NEWS, SPORTS, COMMENTARY, POLITICS for Gloucester City and the Surrounding Areas of South Jersey and Philadelphia

Busy regatta season in full swing on the Cooper River
Atlantic City Casino News: CELEBRATE 45 YEARS OF BALLY’S ATLANTIC CITY

CONTROVERSIAL POLICE TRAINING COMPANY HAVING MORE TROUBLE

 

by Dana DiFilippo, New Jersey Monitor
April 16, 2024

Street Cop, the police training firm with such controversial instruction that almost a dozen states, including New Jersey, have banned cops from its seminars, continued its losing streak in court this month, with judges in two states siding against the company.

Street Cop founder Dennis Benigno and acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh have fought for two years over records stemming from Walsh’s investigation into Street Cop’s 2021 conference in Atlantic City. Benigno has resisted state subpoenas for Street Cop’s financials, attendance lists, and other records, and Benigno counterattacked by suing Walsh for records to learn more about his investigation.

 

Screenshot 2024-04-22 at 19.33.13
A pair of court rulings in the past week were bad news for Street Cop founder Dennis Benigno, a former Woodbridge police officer who has fought an investigation by the state comptroller into his firm's controversial instruction. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

 

Monday, a state appellate panel affirmed a lower court’s ruling that denied Benigno’s requests for those records, agreeing that investigatory records are exempt from the state’s Open Public Records Act and Benigno’s request was overbroad, improper, and “inimical to the public interest.”

“The trial court correctly found the release of OSC’s subpoenas and any other documents relating to its investigation of police departments as part of the Police Accountability Project ‘would severely undermine OSC’s investigative powers and prerogatives to force it to open its investigative playbook to a private vendor presently under investigation,’” the three-judge panel wrote.

The ruling came a week after a federal judge in Florida, where Benigno declared bankruptcy in January, allowed Walsh’s office to continue its investigation and compel Street Cop’s compliance, by April 30, with its subpoena for records showing officer attendance at all Street Cop trainings in New Jersey since January 2019.

Walsh’s office issued a scathing report in December that blasted Street Cop instructors for glorifying violence, promoting unconstitutional policing tactics, and encouraging insubordination and offensive behavior at its 2021 annual conference in Atlantic City. That investigation remains ongoing, as does another by the state Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney Jonathan Cohen, who represented Benigno in his records bid, told the New Jersey Monitor he is especially concerned about the appeals court’s citation of the so-called Glomar response, which is when authorities give a noncommittal response that neither confirms nor denies the existence of records.

Transparency advocates have denounced the Glomar response as a violation of the state’s public records law, which requires authorities to specify reasons for any inability to comply with a records request. But in their Monday ruling, the appellate judges wrote that public agencies may refuse to confirm or deny the existence of records if they’re unable to comply with a records request.

That’s a “bad result for transparency,” however one feels about Street Cop’s training and the comptroller’s report, Cohen said.

“In the state of New Jersey, while the Legislature is considering passing legislation that would further erode the power of OPRA, the appellate division has essentially, in this case, given carte blanche to an executive agency to be completely opaque and not provide any information,” Cohen said. “Pro-transparency attorneys and advocates throughout New Jersey should be very nervous that if other agencies are permitted to use the Glomar response, thereby refusing to confirm or deny the existence of any records, OPRA will be significantly weakened — even without any legislation.”

Cohen said he’s not sure if he’ll appeal to the state Supreme Court, saying he’ll talk to Benigno and see if transparency advocates are interested in “teaming up … to make sure that the policy from this case does not create a climate that prevents requesters from all sides of the political spectrum from being able to obtain government records.”

Pam Kruger, a spokeswoman for the comptroller’s office, declined to comment.

Street Cop’s annual conference this year is scheduled to start April 28 in Kissimmee, Florida.

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has estimated that 240 New Jersey officers attended Street Cop’s 2021 conference and ordered that they be retrained.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

SUBSCRIBE

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence T. McDonald for questions: [email protected]. Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments