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Accused War Criminals Training Cops: What Could Go Wrong?

by Jayson Hawkins

Cops have a dangerous job, and even though making a living as a logger or ironworker can be far deadlier, the nature of policing dictates an above average risk of dying on the job. The controversy arises when law enforcement agencies apply questionable strategies to keep their officers safe.

One such strategy that has become dominant in the years since wars were declared on crime and drugs is training and equipping cops to act like an occupying army instead of peace officers. This strategy includes federal programs that have dispensed billions of dollars in surplus military equipment to police departments and focusing training on combat tactics rather than de-escalation. It is this last facet of the warrior-cop strategy that has raised recent concerns as numerous police departments around the county have had to explain their relationships to ex-military trainers with sordid pasts.

Eddie Gallagher was accused by his fellow U.S. Navy SEALs of intentionally shooting civilians and murdering a prisoner while deployed in Iraq. Even though a court martial cleared him of the worst charges and then-President Trump granted him clemency for the conviction of posing in a picture with a dead prisoner, The New York Times obtained and released the official statements of his fellow operators that explicitly described Gallagher’s cruelty.

Despite his record, Gallagher works as a trainer for Stronghold SOF Solutions, and he posted photos on Instagram in August 2022 with members of the Tallahassee, Florida, police department with a caption describing an “awesome day of training” with “an extraordinary group of men who were ready to train and take on new concepts of shooting CQB [close-quarters battle] to add to their tool box.”

However ready the officers may have been, their bosses were quick to deny any official relationship with Gallagher, offering the explanation that Gallagher just happened to be at the same facility where their officers were training.

The controversy surrounding Gallagher is not an anomaly. Dave Grossman, one of the most prominent police trainers in the U.S., made his reputation with a late 1990s book called On Killing. His popularity grew with military and police clients in the post-9/11 era, but in 2021, the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police canceled a lecture after reports surfaced of Grossman explaining to cops how they would have the best sex of their lives after an on-the-job shooting.

Many observers contend that men like Gallagher and Grossman are not the problem. Arthur Rize, a former police officer and military veteran, wrote,” We have for years told American police officers to regard every civilian encounter as potentially deadly, and that they must always be ready to win that death match.”

Several books have explored the evolution of police militarization. Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko traces the origins back to the 1960s but notes it reached terminal velocity after 9/11 when the Pentagon’s 1033 Program began distributing more than $7 billion in military hardware to police. Cops are also under the microscope in Kathleen Belew’s Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America in which she notes that “War is not neatly contained in the space and time legitimated by the state. It reverberates in other terrains and lasts long past armistice. It comes home in ways bloody and unexpected.”

The consequences of militarization are not hard to uncover, from the surplus military gear on display as police put down protests in Ferguson, Missouri, to the lawsuit against Spokane Valley, Washington, police citing the role of Dave Grossman’s training in a police shooting. What is hard to uncover is how the law enforcement community ever thought turning cops into militarized assault troops trained to believe that every American is a potential enemy combatant was a good idea.


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