Inside the School Teaching Cops When It’s OK to Kill

Forty cops are in a classroom, watching recent footage of protesters in San Francisco denouncing the police. “Your children are ashamed of you,” a black woman in the video tells a black officer, who looks away. “Coward!” others shout. A young demonstrator walks up to a cop and sticks out his middle finger. A female officer trips, and the demonstrators laugh.

The volume is way up, and the cops in the room are leaning back in their chairs, crossing their arms, getting tense. Jim Glennon steps to the front of the room and stops the video…  “Welcome to our world,” Glennon says. “It’s as bad as it’s been since the ’60s and ’70s.”

The officers nod in agreement. At one point, Glennon asks how many of them have been spat on. Most raise their hands.They’re sitting at long tables in a bland room in a facility in Urbana, Ill. A former county nursing home, it’s now occupied by the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System, created in 2002 to coordinate statewide responses to terrorism and disasters. The lobby features a mannequin in tactical pants and mirrored sunglasses, a table of books and brochures—among them, Developing the Survival Attitude and Online Predators—and a big-screen TV tuned to Fox News.

Glennon runs Calibre Press, one of the country’s largest private police training companies, and this is the start of a two-day seminar, Street Survival, which has been taught to hundreds of thousands of officers over four decades…

Like many companies in the business, Calibre promotes a “warrior” mentality for police, likening cops to soldiers and focusing on conflict, vigilance, and martial skills…

Glennon’s students are mostly white men in their 20s and 30s, some with firearms strapped to the belts of their cargo pants, joined by a handful of women, black officers, and older men… One student in the class interrupts to say it doesn’t help when the president sympathizes with protesters. “It doesn’t,” Glennon says. “It’s easy to demonize the cops.” He tells them law enforcement ranked as less respected than medicine in a recent Gallup poll—even though, he says, doctors’ mistakes kill 98,000 people a year while police kill 400…  (The FBI estimates there are about 400 annual justifiable police homicides. One Washington Post tally found almost that number killed by police in the first five months of this year.)

Before proceeding, Glennon points to a threat in the back of the room: me. “In 35 years, we have not allowed the press to come into a class,” he says. “The reason is because we don’t trust them.” He says he’s letting me observe because many police chiefs are frustrated no one is advocating for them. They’re tired of being portrayed in the media as racists and unaccountable killers and want a more sympathetic depiction. If my article screws them, he tells the class with a smile, “I’ll fly out to Seattle”—where I live—“and kill him.” …

Being drilled to think of everything and everyone as a threat fries my nerves. That evening at my hotel, I press the elevator button and suddenly hear gunfire behind me. It’s the ice machine…

There’s no universal model for police training, with almost 650 police academies around the U.S. and more than 12,000 local departments, according to the Department of Justice. In addition, many agencies provide continuing education offered by their own officers or private companies…

For all the concern about risks, the rate of officers murdered in the line of duty is dropping, according to FBI statistics. In 1984 the 10-year average was 97 a year; as of 2014, it was 51. With some 63 million face-to-face interactions a year between police and the public, a cop’s chances of being murdered are fractions of a percent…

“What’s the only rule in a gunfight?” Glennon says. “Win the gunfight. There are no rules. That’s it, right?”

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