Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport
News

California’s Bizarre, Racist Law Enforcement Training Videos

For the past 11 years, the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) has produced videos containing racist stereotypes and false information that continue to be used in police education.

Police officer in uniform with a bag of confiscated marijuana edibles in his hand facing a person with long hair in a blue t-shirt whose back faces the camera
Still of an officer confiscating marijuana edibles. (Source: California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training)

A look at training videos supplied to the LAPD by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) shows potentially troubling attitudes in policing being taught to police officers taught as part of training videos containing racist stereotypes. POST sets minimum selection and training standards for California law enforcement, and is funded by California taxpayer money as well as criminal and traffic fines.

POST began uploading videos to a YouTube channel more than 11 years ago with an acceptance speech for “Best In-House Developed Application” at the Best of California Awards. But at the time of publication, it had gained only 420 subscribers. The channel features short videos intended for police officers as well as workshops lasting several hours. Many of POST’s videos are released solely on their website as part of a training portal, and some are only available on DVD via purchase from POST.

Though Knock LA has been able to obtain many of the videos via records requests, several videos have been redacted in portions. POST claimed an exemption to records requests which claims that “the public interest served by not disclosing the [full videos] clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the [full videos].”

Many of the videos available on YouTube are advertisements for POST law enforcement training on basic policing concepts. One video promises to go over the basics of search warrants. Another one provides a refresher about Marsy’s Law.

Stigmatizing and Poorly Researched Content

A video called “Law Enforcement Response to Terrorism (LERT)” introduces a longer video training officers to recognize potential terrorist activity. One image during the introduction is a photo taken from a publication by the neofascist group Patriot Front. A picture later in the video features text describing a member of an “Anti-Government Militia Group.” At another point in the video, a man is pictured next to a quote reading “it’s time for us to take a real stand against the evils of big government and disrupt the balance of power in this country.”

Another video, “Did You Know? ‘Adult-Use Cannabis,’” portrays a marijuana user conscious but unresponsive after vomiting. A person named “Matthew” is sitting on the ground, his chest covered in what appears to be fake vomit while a character named officer Green speaks with his mother. She reveals that she went through his bag and found a bag of edibles.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is rare, and it does not develop from a single use. An emergency department nurse working in Los Angeles and wanting to remain anonymous laughed when shown the video, and said the video was likely attempting to portray the rare syndrome. She told Knock LA that she’s seen tens of thousands of patients in her career and can only recall one case of CHS.

“Did You Know – ‘Fentanyl Exposure Risks,'” another POST production, depicts an officer grazing pills with a pen. Lynchian music plays while “The Risk of Inhaling Fentanyl is Real” is displayed on screen. The officer is then depicted bagging the pills, putting them in the evidence locker, and returning home. The menacing music continues playing as the camera shows a few particles of the pills still on his clothing while children say “Daddy!” and run up to him for a hug.

California Public Records Act (CPRA) activist Adrian Riskin released several previously unpublished POST videos, each several hours long. Riskin runs MichaelKohlhaas.org and Chez-Risk.in, both large archives of public information requests. Videos Riskin posted include videos on policing Indian lands, drug influence and awareness, and social media.

One POST video Riskin posted is titled “News Media Relations.” Sergeant Mike Crain of the Marin County Sheriff’s Department tells trainees, “there’s no such thing as off the record, no matter who says that to you, it’s always on the record,” in the video. Later in the video LAPD lieutenant (later promoted to captain) Paul Vernon describes “having an input in putting [negative stories about police] to rest, keeping this to a shorter shelf life” and gives the example of the fatal shooting of 19-month-old Suzie Marie Peña and her father Jose Raul Peña.

Peña had taken his daughter hostage, and LAPD officers fatally shot both during the shootout. “We’re going to say upfront, we believe it was our police officer’s bullet that killed the child, but it doesn’t change the outcome of what happened. The father was still responsible for what took place in that shooting.”

Anti-Islamic Content Used as Part of LAPD Training

In early December 2022, Hatewatch, a branch of the Southern Poverty Law Center, first broke that a video produced by POST entitled “Radicalization” contained anti-Muslim messaging. At least 71 current LAPD officers watched the video, at least one as recently as August 2022. LASD did not comment on Hatewatch’s article. At the time of publication, the video was no longer available on POST’s training portal.

Content Warning: Anti-Muslim content, physical violence against women.

Knock LA has obtained portions of another video titled “Radicalization Countermeasures,” which also includes anti-Islamic views. The video’s first few minutes contain right-wing tropes about Islam. In another video also titled “Radicalization Countermeasures,” a man attacks a white woman who is wearing a dress. The man tells her “a Muslim woman doesn’t dress this way.” The woman replies “I’m not a Muslim woman,” and the man strikes her in the face and forces her into his home.

Beth Ruyak, former host of Insight with Beth Ruyak in Sacramento, states that “terrorists can be found in every part of the world. However, a majority of terrorist groups are based in the Middle East.” In reality, the vast majority of terrorist acts since 9/11 have been committed by white non-Muslim US permanent residents or citizens.

The video then segues into a history of the Middle East. In this section, retired lieutenant Michael Hahn of the San Jose Police Department tells viewers that “this conflict is not just US forces fighting overseas. You are the front line in your community for whatever might roll into town.”

Deputy chief Marc Reina, who runs LAPD’s training bureau, reiterated many of the talking points from the fentanyl video in a widely panned tweet. LAPD has been involved in numerous anti-Muslim scandals, including claims they forcibly removed the headscarf of a Muslim detainee, and proposing a system to map Muslims within Los Angeles.

LASD was accused of neglecting the religious rights of Muslim prisoners, and a former LASD chief of staff resigned after widespread criticism of emails which contained negative views on Muslims (among many other groups). While it’s unclear exactly how many officers have viewed these videos, they could potentially be exacerbating an atmosphere of misinformation and racism.

LASD declined to comment in time for this article. When emailed queries about LAPD officers using the training videos and appearing in the videos, LAPD responded with, “Thank you for your email. All the videos are the responsibility of the California Peace Officer Standards and Training Post.”