The Minneapolis police union formed a training partnership in 2019 with an Oklahoma police officer who denies the existence of systemic racism in the criminal justice system. Major Travis Yates of the Tulsa Police Department also said recently that Black Americans are not killed by police at disproportionately high rates, once crime rates are factored in.
“Research says we’re shooting African Americans about 24% less than we probably ought to be based on the crimes being committed,” Yates said on local Tulsa station KFAQ last week.
Last year the Minneapolis Police Federation partnered with organization Law Officer — where Yates is the training director — to provide free “warrior-style” training for union members after Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey banned the controversial and popular seminars.
Despite the planned partnership, Law Officer never worked with Minneapolis Police, Yates told the Reformer. They had “every intention” of holding virtual and possibly in-person seminars for union members after the ban, but the plans didn’t come to fruition because other training became available for officers, he said.
Still, the relationship raises more questions about the judgment of the Minneapolis Police union, which is under scrutiny after the police killing of George Floyd and the subsequent unrest in which officers now face widespread allegations of targeting and indiscriminate force against peaceful demonstrators and journalists.
On a segment called “Behind the Blue Line” on KFAQ host Pat Campbell’s talk show, Yates said systemic racism “just doesn’t exist.” He cited data, including The Washington Post‘s police shootings database, that he said shows more unarmed white people than Black people are killed by police in the United States.
He also said research from Harvard University’s Roland Fryer, conservative criminal justice writer Heather MacDonald and the National Academy of Sciences showed Black Americans are not shot more than would be expected, given Black crime rates. It’s unclear which research he’s referring to specifically.
Half the people shot and killed by police are white, but Black Americans are disproportionately killed by police and are more likely to be fatally shot while unarmed, the Washington Post‘s analysis of police shootings between 2015 and 2019 found. More than 25% of people killed by police were Black, although they account for 13% of the population.
Tulsa’s mayor and police department condemned Yates’ comments. Yates told the Reformer that he was not advocating for shooting anybody, and that he felt his comments had been maliciously taken out of context. He “simply regurgitated” research, he said.
Yates has said he won’t apologize for the comments claiming the numbers are accurate.
After Frey banned “warrior-style” training, even for off-duty officers, Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll told the Star Tribune that the order was unlawful. He defended the training, saying it’s “not about killing, it’s about surviving.” When the partnership between the union and Law Officer was announced, Yates said in a statement that it was “both an honor and privilege” to provide the training for Minneapolis officers.
The style of training teaches officers that everyday work is filled with threats, requiring constant vigilance. The method came under scrutiny after it was discovered that former St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez took a “Bulletproof Warrior” training course two years before he fatally shot Philando Castile at a traffic stop.
Soon after the partnership was announced, the Star Tribune reported that Kroll and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo agreed to let department administration vet the Law Officer training and determine if officers could participate.
Kroll did not respond to requests for comment.
The radio show wasn’t the first time Yates argued that systemic racism isn’t a problem in police departments. In a June 3 Law Officer article titled “The Lies of ‘Systemic Police Racism’” Yates wrote that it’s “impossible” to expect racial arrest and incarceration rates to match a city’s demographic makeup “unless that race only committed the amount of crime at that same percentage.”
“Think about it, what should law enforcement do if blacks commit robbery at a rate of 40% while they only make up 13% of the population?” he wrote. In his seminars, he recommends that law enforcement compare use-of-force statistics to arrest statistics so they “don’t fall to the always losing trap of comparing them to the census data,” the article says.
Yates said in an interview that he believes in individual racism, but that data don’t show an industry-wide problem.
“Law enforcement does not invent who commits crime. Victims call police, police investigate those crimes, police arrest those suspects. How that lines out has nothing to do with me or law enforcement,” he said in an interview.
But data don’t support that reasoning for some police interactions. Black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate, but Black people are three-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. And researchers have found evidence of racial discrimination in traffic stops and searches.
Yates is also a trainer with law enforcement organization SAFETAC, where he teaches a safe driving seminar and a course called “Seconds 4 Survival: Survive the Ambush.” He published a book called The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos and Lies.
In 2016, Yates was reassigned within the Tulsa Police Department after writing in a Law Officer post that “there is a war against cops!” after police officers were killed in Baton Rouge and Dallas.