Despite warnings, safeguard to prevent extremist training for law enforcement removed

By Isaac Stone Simonelli


Warnings issued by high-profile civil rights and advocacy groups to Arizona’s governor and attorney general failed to stop a rule change that effectively lowers the bar for extremist organizations attempting to radicalize law enforcement officers through government-funded training.

Letters sent in March by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center implored the Governor’s Office and other state agencies to intervene before the rule’s April 5 implementation. They warned it created a loophole that could be exploited by domestic extremist groups.

The contentious rule change, as first reported by AZCIR in 2022, shifted the responsibility of continuing education training oversight from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to law enforcement agency heads. Previously, AZPOST denied at least one extremist group from conducting such training in 2021.

In their letters, one of which also went to the U.S. Department of Justice, the groups raised concerns about eliminating the longstanding safeguard and cited an increase in extremist and conspiratorial rhetoric espoused by Arizona public officials, including publicly elected sheriffs. The advocacy and civil rights groups joined the Arizona chapter of the NAACP, which sent a letter to AZPOST in December 2022, in opposing the shift.

“We are deeply concerned by the possibility that this amended rule will open the door for Arizona peace officers to receive training from adherents of the ‘constitutional sheriffs’ movement and other actors who urge local law enforcement to assume authorities beyond those allowed by law,” wrote Mary McCord, the executive director of Georgetown University Law Center’s ICAP, a nonpartisan institute focused on constitutional rights and protecting democratic processes.

McCord warned that such taxpayer-funded trainings “would place residents at risk of improper activity by county peace officers” and pose a particular threat to brown and Black communities, “who are at the greatest risk of harm from abuses by law enforcement.”

The letters cited previous AZCIR reporting about so-called “constitutional sheriff” groups, which include the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. The group is part of a national movement built on the idea that a sheriff’s power supersedes that of higher government entities, such as the president and the U.S. Supreme Court, and that sheriffs have a duty to nullify laws they interpret as unconstitutional.

The civil rights and advocacy organizations highlighted numerous connections between the CSPOA and a variety of hate groups, with the NAACP denouncing some CSPOA members as “prominent antisemites, QAnon conspiracists, white nationalists and neo-confederates.”

“If the revised rule goes into effect, we fear that domestic extremists, based on their previous actions, will rush to take advantage of the opportunity,” wrote Sarah Kader, community manager for ADL Arizona, a state-level branch of a national organization that combats hate groups in the U.S.

Rachel Goldwasser, a senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, warned that the rule change could be used as a blueprint for creating workarounds allowing extremist organizations to train law enforcement in other states. The Hobbs administration didn’t directly address such concerns in an emailed statement to AZCIR, saying it believes “existing rules provide mechanisms to revoke credit for trainings that embrace extremist views.”

“Governor Hobbs is adamantly opposed to extremist groups providing training to our law enforcement and believes no officer should receive credit for trainings done by extremists,” wrote Christian Slater, Hobbs’ communication director.

Though he stressed the new rule was enacted under Hobbs’ predecessor, former Gov. Doug Ducey, Slater said the current administration “is working with the AZPOST to ensure we monitor the situation and use every available legal means to protect against extremists training law enforcement officers.”

In an email response, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes echoed Hobbs’ assessment of the situation and committed her office to countering extremist ideologies.

“As the top law enforcement official in Arizona and a member of the AZPOST Board, I am committed to working closely with my fellow board members, AZPOST leadership, Governor Hobbs, and local law enforcement leaders to ensure that decisions regarding continuing education are suitable and meet the high standards we set for law enforcement professionals in our state,” Mayes wrote.

Neither the governor nor the attorney general detailed which mechanisms were in place to prevent extremists groups from taking advantage of the loophole, or what could be done to mitigate harm to law enforcement if extremist trainings do take place.

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