A training course for Georgia police on extremism and Islam is drawing criticisms of misinformation and Islamophobia.
So how did it get approved in the first place? The content of continuing education courses for Georgia law enforcement isn’t vetted by anyone.
The body that oversees law enforcement training and accreditation in Georgia does not preview course material offered to 40,000 active police officers.
Each year, Georgia law enforcement officers are required to take 24 hours of in-service training. Among the elective courses offered is “ISIS, The Muslim Brotherhood, and Threats to Law Enforcement.”
The eight-hour class, originally titled “Islam in America,” took place Wednesday, hosted by the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office. That’s despite the objections of advocates like Edward Mitchell, who leads the Georgia chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Mitchell has watched the instructor, a retired Army officer, give a similar presentation.
“It was the greatest hits of anti-Muslim bigotry. He taught that American Muslims were part of a conspiracy to overthrow the Constitution and impose Sharia law on the people,” Mitchell said.
The instructor, retired Army Lt. Col. David Bores, is a former police chief and has been an active presenter throughout the Southeast for years — for civic groups as well as law enforcement. According to the Georgia’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST), about 1,200 police officers have taken this course. He has four others.
Parts of the class Mitchell acknowledges could be valuable for police, like warning signs someone may be turning toward extremism, were created by a former Canadian intelligence official, not Bores.
“The scary thing about the meeting is how many people just assumed he was telling the truth because he was a former cop,” Mitchell said.
CAIR-GA is demanding an apology from the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office and an agreement not to have Bores speak there again. In addition to objecting to the content of the course, CAIR is threatening legal action over the sheriff’s decision on who was allowed in.
“The sheriff instituted a rule saying that the only people who could attend argye law enforcement officers and the leaders of houses of worship within Barrow County. As we told the sheriff and as the sheriff well knows, there is no mosque in Barrow County,” Mitchell said. There are Muslim residents in Barrow County, who, according to Mitchell, tried but were effectively banned from attending.
Mitchell said CAIR knew of Bores but only learned he was instructing police last year. The group then spent months acquiring his course materials and gathering information for a report sent to Georgia POST in December. He said they’d held off on publicizing their concerns because they were told POST would investigate.
And they are, according to POST Director of Operations Ryan Powell.
Someone from the organization was sent to review Bores’ class this week, the first such presentation he’s given to law enforcement since CAIR’s complaints were received.
Powell told WABE that instructors must complete a rigorous two-week course on how to write lesson plans and teach adults.
“Then after that, we don’t actually approve the training material,” Powell said.
No one does. Powell said to do so would be “a monumental undertaking.”
“You have to remember, Georgia’s a large state. We probably have 800-1,000 different topics that are taught in the state of Georgia. It’s incumbent upon the instructors to make sure their training materials are current,” said Powell.
According to Maki Haberfeld, a police training expert at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, that’s true across the country.
“Police departments certainly don’t want any type of external control over their training so nobody’s asking for this, and the public has no idea so it’s a perfect secret,” Haberfeld said.
She called the training disturbing.
“This is something that goes against everything I teach for the last 15 years in the NYPD ethics and counterterrorism classes I run,” said Haberfeld. “If you get training that reinforces your possible bias, it can create a selective or focused enforcement on individuals just because they are a certain religion.”
She points to an NYPD program that targeted Muslim businesses in the early 2000s.
Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said he’s heard a handful of complaints about Bores’ instruction over the past few years, all of which, he said, were found unsubstantiated. The GACP suspended its support of the course in question after receiving detailed letters of concern from advocate groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I think I have to give a little bit more credit to the law enforcement profession to understand that the Muslim religion and the culture of the community — the majority of people are very fair and honest, and they are not radical,” said Rotondo, responding to public concerns about spreading bias in the ranks. He said he’s spoken to Bores in the past about the need to mention the fact that not all Muslims are extremists in his presentations.
Bores could not be reached for comment.
Georgia POST says it’s currently reviewing the training on Islam. Powell said, to his knowledge, no POST courses in the state have ever lost accreditation.