An upcoming “anti-jihad” law-enforcement seminar in Mesa funded by a Maricopa County Attorney’s Office grant has resurrected concerns from Muslim-American leaders that such training exercises are Islamophobic.
“Understanding and Investigating the Jihadi Threat” is to be presented by John Guandolo, a controversial former FBI agent who created Understanding the Threat, an organization that focuses on threats posed by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations earlier this month urged the Arizona Police Association to cancel the seminar and for Mesa police to disassociate itself from the event.
CAIR wrote that Guandolo, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “disreputable character,” regularly attacks the U.S. government and American Muslims and puts the Muslim community at risk by making false claims about them.
“The Mesa Police Department should disassociate itself from such biased, inaccurate and counterproductive training, which — if implemented in the field by police officers — could have a negative impact on the safety and civil rights of Arizona Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslim,” CAIR said.
Previous training seminars
The three-day event, starting May 16 at a Mesa Police Department training facility, will be hosted by the Arizona Police Association (APA) and was funded through a training grant from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Mesa police said.
CAIR said it received a response from Levi Bolton, the APA’s executive director, in which he requested a “complete sworn deposition here in Arizona.”
Bolton did not respond to requests by The Arizona Republic to comment on the training seminars.
Similar talks that Understanding the Threat has participated in included information on an alleged “significant jihadi network that exists in the U.S. today” and the threat it poses to law enforcement, along with how police can obtain probable cause against suspects.
Interim Mesa Police Chief Michael Dvorak said in a letter to the national CAIR office that the department will go forward with the event, though this will be the last occurrence of this specific training permitted to be held at the agency’s training facility.
Dvorak said his agency is not “participating as host, sponsor or monetary contributor” but merely approving the use of its space, which the agency has previously granted for this event several times.
“I have directed our staff to explore other training opportunities in similar genres so our peace officers can have a comprehensive view of these topics,” Dvorak said in a written statement.
Jack Lane, the executive director of AZPOST, the state’s law enforcement training and certification board, said the training is not currently accredited by the group, though it may have been in 2013.
Both law-enforcement agencies and associations can host training seminars but accreditation can vary depending on an agency’s willingness to sponsor and record an approved lesson plan and class roster, Lane said.
‘Affront to a peaceful community’
Imraan Siddiqi, CAIR Arizona executive director, said he is encouraged that Dvorak said Mesa police would no longer host Guandolo’s training seminars in the future, but he remains concerned about the spread of incorrect information.
“If there is someone raising these types of red flags of racism and bigotry, they need to be dropped right then and there. This is an affront to a peaceful community,” Siddiqi said.
“I still don’t feel that is an acceptable response to our community because this has been an ongoing issue with police departments bringing this guy to Phoenix.”
A County Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said it gave two grants totaling a collective $28,000 to law-enforcement officers and prosecutors for anti-terrorism training in 2016.
In a written statement released Thursday afternoon, the office said it does not coordinate or approve schedules or curriculum on behalf of the grantees.
Siddiqi said, “All these years of building positive relationships with law enforcement and elected officials was rebuked and they turned their back on us. … What is the purpose behind all of this?”
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