BuzzFeed News; Getty Images (2); Safeware via YouTube / Via youtube.com
The day before federal police officers gassed peaceful protesters to make way for a President Donald Trump photo op, Geoff Perrin posted a picture on Instagram of officers bearing riot shields and squaring off with a group of demonstrators.
Perrin was “at the White House,” where he “served as an adviser to the US Secret Service and US Park Police responsible for protecting the area,” his company announced, using the hashtags “#riotcontrol” and “#publicorder.” A second post showed a line of armored police vehicles. “We are just waiting for them to pull the pin,” Perrin wrote in the caption.
Perrin has trained police officers around the country. His website features Molotov cocktails, riot vans, and semiautomatic assault rifles. Muscular and tanned with a salt-and-pepper crew cut, Perrin dishes out wisdom in a clipped South London accent in YouTube instruction videos, including one where he explains how riot shields “could be used as a weapon as well if need be.”
Perrin’s teaching draws on martial arts, as well as American and British police tactics, the latter of which he has claimed to have learned during years as an elite instructor and “tactical adviser” for the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service.
But several of those claims are false. Perrin was never a “tactical adviser” and he did not teach the advanced instruction courses he said he taught. And four current and former officers say the methods he has been teaching US law enforcement are far more aggressive than anything advocated by the Met.
Perrin’s teachings are “self-made, unproven, and legally not defensible,” a British police training coordinator told BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity. “The only reason why he’s got so far is because the US police are so far back in methodology and tactics therefore they believe his bullshit.”
In phone interviews, Perrin admitted that he has made erroneous and “misleading” claims about his experience. Less than an hour after the first phone call, Perrin’s biography on his company website was taken down.
Perrin’s bio on the Survival Edge website before he revised it.
Perrin also acknowledged that, contrary to the impression his social media has created, he has not been working as a formal “adviser” with the Secret Service or the Park Police during the George Floyd protests. He said he has previously trained officers from both agencies, and wanted to give them a “basic refresh” and to supply them with helmets and limbguards. “I am not going to watch officers get injured because they didn’t have any equipment,” Perrin said. He said he has not been paid for this work, and that he “did not write” the company announcement that described him as an adviser.
Neither the Secret Service nor the Park Police responded to repeated requests for comment about their relationship, if any, with Perrin. The Maryland State Police confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it has worked with him and said that he gave the department legitimate credentials for the job, which they verified with British police. Federal records show that his company has also won contracts with the Department of Defense.
Perrin said he left the UK for family reasons, and because he believes that higher-ups there don’t do enough to protect cops who are trying to subdue crowds. But he was also sharply critical of “dinosaur tactics” in US policing. Many police departments offer “no training for what these guys are facing,” Perrin said. “Because they’re so dumb, it is a constant battle to get them to see a different viewpoint other than use of force” when responding to protesters.
“They just say, ‘Geoff, this is how we do things in America,’” he said. “My team are quite excited about the fact that US is actually going to look at some reforms because it needs to happen.”
Perrin told BuzzFeed News that he is a “massive advocate” against the use of tear gas. Before officers in Washington cleared the protest to make way for Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s church, Perrin said he had been “concerned” about how much tear gas officers had and pushed commanders to “use other tactics.”
He claimed the Secret Service and Park Police largely followed his advice, and he blamed “other agencies” — namely the DC Metropolitan Police — for its use. He also pointed out that there were other federal officers there that night who refused to identify themselves.
Both the Secret Service and the Park Police have acknowledged using chemical agents designed to produce tears.
Most of the officers on the ground had “honest intentions,” Perrin said, and were short on both staff and supplies. “The police did the best they could with the equipment and the personnel they had.”
Roberto Schmidt / Getty Images
Riot police confront protestors near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd’s death continue.
In 2001, violence erupted in the South London neighborhood of Brixton after an unarmed Black man named Derek Bennett was shot dead by the police. Metropolitan Police officers were accused of using excessive force to control the crowds.
Geoff Perrin was a medic with the force at the time, and an officer safety instructor in the London borough of Lewisham. He grew up in Brixton, and said the way police used to target his Black friends influenced his decision to join the force. “I wanted to see a change to policing,” he said.
But Perrin said he grew outraged at the way that police leadership responded to the 2001 unrest — he felt that rank-and-file officers were “thrown under the bus like sacrificial lambs.” Neither the Met and nor the UK’s Home Office responded to repeated requests for comment about Perrin’s time with British police.
In 2004, Perrin left the Met. Soon afterward he moved to the US. He claimed that his training methods had drastically reduced the number of officer injuries in Lewisham, and told BuzzFeed News he believed he might help police departments in the US do the same. In 2006, he helped start Survival Edge Tactical Solutions, based in Utah, with a fellow ex-cop, Jared Wihongi.
Once in the US, Perrin began winning contracts with American police forces to train them on crowd management and how to de-escalate tense situations, as well as on the use of protective gear.
Perrin also claimed during one phone interview that he spent a few years “teaching counterterrorism stuff for the FBI for their missions overseas.” The bio on his website listed work in numerous countries, including Cyprus, Germany, Croatia, Mongolia, Kenya, France, Canada, Singapore, and the Netherlands. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.
His website says he has worked with a number of state and local departments, including the Utah Highway Patrol and Atlanta Police Department. Neither force responded to a request for comment.
While in Utah, Perrin was involved in the creation of a charity calendar featuring British bikini models firing guns, riding tanks, and posing with heavy artillery and soldiers in uniform. Two Utah police officers and several Utah National Guard members were suspended after a video of the “Hot Shots” shoot — featuring Perrin’s name in the credits — was posted on YouTube.
“There was nothing untoward, it was just way too racy for Utah,” Perrin said. But “it raised a hell of a lot of money for the help for heroes and special ops charities over here.”
That same year, he began working with the Maryland State Police, which was reviewing its own practices in the wake of mass unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. Thanks to his training, “we have updated our personal protective equipment to better protect our troopers and implemented tactics that enable us to end volatile situations quickly, while protecting the rights of peaceful protesters,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
It is unclear exactly when Perrin started overstating his credentials, but a Salt Lake Tribune article about the “Hot Shots” controversy refers to Perrin as a “tactical adviser.”
This is a phrase that holds serious meaning in UK policing circles — it reflects a specific job and elite training. To qualify for the job, an officer must pass a four-week course that is “generally regarded as the most physical course in the police,” a former public order instructor told BuzzFeed News. “It’s a very highly regarded role.”
Perrin used that term in the now-deleted bio on his website, and it is referenced in Facebook posts and in interviews. In an interview that Perrin did with an apparel company selling protective gear, an officer is photographed back to camera wearing a helmet plastered with a Union Jack sticker and the insignia “Tactical Advisor.”
Perrin also claimed to have been an elite instructor for the Met’s public order unit. Perrin acknowledged that he wasn’t as high-level an instructor as he put on his résumé, and that he didn’t work in the police’s central headquarters but at a local level, in the London borough of Lewisham.
“I’ll own it,” Perrin said of his résumé. “Yes, you know what, it was definitely fluffed up, and it’s being cleaned up 100%.”
Perrin told BuzzFeed News that he hadn’t used the statements in his bio to obtain any of his current contracts, because “Americans have not got the time for British policing,” so he has to win business by doing demonstrations.
“Nothing on that CV has helped me at all,” he said, “because they just go ‘What do you guys know about guns? What do you guys know about policing the type of violence we police here?’” Perrin insisted he got to where he is by hard work alone.
Screenshot via Instagram
Perrin train law enforcement officers
Perrin describes the methods behind his “hybrid” police-martial arts model in a number of videos online. In one posted in 2017, Perrin moves his arm in a punching motion to demonstrate how to “distance people.” Perrin says this is an effective “defensive” method if the officer doesn’t have a baton.
The move bears an eerie resemblance to one used by a Park Police officer on June 1 against an Australian news camera operator, which prompted an apology from the Park Police after Australia’s prime minister denounced the incident.
Perrin told BuzzFeed News that the officer used his elbow in a way that “we don’t teach.” For Perrin’s taste, the officer “would have to justify” his use of the technique. But he said the video doesn’t necessarily show the whole picture. “I can’t give you his perception or his fear of what happened,” he said. “I don’t know what happened before in that corner.”
“I can’t speak for what was going through his head at that period of time,” he added. “I don’t know how much sleep he had. If he’d done continued days of 16 hours extended tours, I just don’t know. Everyone has a different perception of fear.”
Perrin said his methods are all about reducing violence in riot control — by properly protecting officers. “You can’t expect them to stand out there and take projectiles,” he said. “Nobody wants to get hurt, and when an officer gets hurt, they can sometimes use more force than they may have intended.”
Three of the former and current British officers who spoke to BuzzFeed News said Perrin’s methods had little in common with what is taught in the UK, where officers rarely wear heavy-duty anti-riot equipment or military gear, and are taught to use force less frequently.
Perrin told BuzzFeed News the difference is intentional. He believes British police leaders don’t do enough to protect cops trying to subdue crowds, and that Americans often go too far. His “hybrid” approach is a balance between the two, he said.
Perrin believes that some of his former colleagues simply envy his success. “There’s a few people back home who are jealous that a South London boy who has come from pretty much nothing has done quite well for himself,” he said.
Perrin also pointed out that the mayhem in Washington on June 1 contrasted sharply with the work of his clients a short drive away in Maryland.
The Maryland State Police were called into action in Baltimore, where protests broke out soon after George Floyd’s death. According to multiple news reports, those protests unfolded more peacefully than they did in other cities.
The day before Trump’s walk to Lafayette Square, Perrin wrote about a double role — and dizzying schedule — on Instagram.
“From being down at the White House supporting our US Secret Service Level 1 team to then running with two Maryland State Police Level 1 teams to Baltimore. The teams did could [sic] crushed any problems in the City and Baltimore did not burn. Outstanding work and am safe and now in bed at 05.46.” In another post, he filmed Marine One carrying the president overhead. “Mr T coming home last night just before we got the call to go to Baltimore,” the caption read.
Perrin did not post anything about the events at Lafayette Square. And he has continued to post on social media, including from inside the White House, about working with the federal government.
On June 6, D-Day, Perrin posted a video saying he “was down at the White House training the White House personnel as in secret service” and that he had been invited to the map room to look at World War II maps. D-Day was a reminder of when “America showed everybody what they can do,” he said. ●
Perrin at the White House on June 6
John Templon contributed reporting.