news story day est tried to do LAPD

Getting the Most-est out of a Police Force
LAPD training leaves wake of controversy

Los Angeles Herald Examiner/September 29, 1978

By Terry Pristin
Werner Erhard has been trying diligently to “transform” community leaders through the grueling combination of insults, confrontations and directed fantasies known as est training.

The effort has met with mixed results — but last month 100 members of Los Angeles’ “think blue line’ became the second group of police officers in the nation to ry to “get it” through est.

The training — provided free of charge — has left a wake of controversy. So much, in fact, that spokesmen for the Police Protective League, which paid for the hall where the training sessions are held, say they would not sponsor another est course.

Mindful of the protests, high-ranking police officials, including Chief Daryl Gates, have gone out of their way to insist that the department did not sanction the training; they said officers who participated did so on their own time.

The department’s chief clinical psychologist, Dr. Martin Reiser, has raised some serious questions about est — although he refrains from directly attacking the program. Reiser, who joined the officers for the training told The Herald Examiner, “I thinks that the (est) methods and tactics are rather coercive in a sense.”

And other harsher critics contend that est is totally inappropriate for peace officers because it uses brainwashing techniques. Est however, denies that brainwashing takes place.

In some ways, the LAPD was ripe for Erhard’s training plans. For the past two years, city officials have been seeking means of alleviating their officers’ work-related stress, even so far as appoint a task force on the subject.

In additions, est had an ardent promoter within the department — Captain Tom Ferry, the highly respected commanding officer of the intelligence Support Division.

An est “graduate” since 1975, Ferry said he took it upon himself earlier this year to approach est President Don Cox, a former Coca-Cola marketing executive, and proposed that the organization “do a public service for the Police Department.”

Most people who enroll in est pay $300 for the 60-hour training normally given during two marathon weekend sessions.

But est was willing to waive the fee for the LAPD, and Ferry persuaded the Police Protective League to pick up the $1,380 tab for a large hall at the Convention Center.

Officer Tony Amador a member of the league’s board, said the group split on the question of spending policeman’s union dues on the project.

“We went through with it because we’re concerned about stress on the job,” he said. “A lot was based on Ferry’s recommendation.”

Even before the training late in August, criticism poured in.

“I have never seen anything so controversial,” said Lt. Jerry Trent, a board member who helped arrange for the training. “The people who liked it, loved it. The people who didn’t hated it to the point of being vicious.”

Some fo the criticism came from Paul Morantz, an attorney who specializes in fighting organizations like the Unification Church and Synanon. Morantz visited Deputy Chief Barry Wade and told him he believed est was a for of brainwashing that could have serious consequences for some of the officers.

The department had already issued a Personnel and Training Bureau notice announcing that the est course was being offered on an off-duty basis.

Aflter talking with Morantz, Wade, who heads the Personnel and Training Bureau, issued a second notice — with a disclaimer. “We felt it was important to make it clear that we hadn’t sponsored the training,” he said.

Gates said the department’s hands were tied. Any other reaction would have been “tantamount to telling police officers they can’t go to Cal State,” the police chief said.

But other institutions have turned down est, among them the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. LASO officials refuse to explain their decision. “We explored the possibility and the experience did not seem like the right thing for our department,” said staff psychologist Dr. John Stratton.

In addition, angry residents of the Northern California town of Parlier recently rebuffed est’s efforts to “transform” its entire citizenry, and the Fresno City Council also said no to est.

LAPD and est: Results are Mixed

At the same time, 135 employees of the Compton city government, including a number of police officer, have been “esticized,” as have members of the Honolulu police force.

Despite the warnings and criticism, 160 LAPD employees, including two commanders and 60 non-uniformed personnel, gathered at the Convention Center during two consecutive sessions from August 23 to August 24 and August 30 to August 31.

According to a woman who “assisted” at the training (est disapproves of the word “help”), the sessions were no different from the courses conducted for civilians. The officers writhed on the floor, confided personal problems and listened to a trainer yell at them for being “assholes.”

During the marathon sessions, they took bathroom breaks only on command and ate or left the hall only when allowed to do so. Some of the officers wept.

The purpose of est, its literature states, is to change a person’s life by changing the way he perceives things. You “get it” when you “transform your ability to experience living so that the situations you have been trying to change or have been putting up with clear up just in the process of life itself.”

On police officer interviewed aft the training said he and some of the others didn’t “get it,” but Ferry said the 30 new “graduates” he talked to reported positive experiences.

And Ferry said that half of the participants signed up for graduate seminars and many persuaded their wives and other family members to enroll — something est spokesman Brian Van Der Horst declined to confirm on grounds that such information is “confidential.”

Trent said he was indeed “transformed” — like thousands among est’s 157,000 graduates who claim the training was the best thing that ever happened to them.

Not surprisingly, the est organization has always vigorously denied that i employs brainwashing.

But Dr. Francis Hacker, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and authority on terrorism, disagrees. To him, est uses all the methods of what her prefers to call “brain-impressing,” including “vulgar names in order to destroy self-esteem” and sensory deprivation exercises” in ord to make participants feel “helpless.”

Then Hacker said, the group is “indoctrinated by a semi-hypnotic technique” and “filled with the est message — a message with very little content. The message says est is great.”

Reiser, the LAPD head psychologist, acknowledges that ‘quite a bit of est is lifted from Scientology,” and attitude altering quasi-religion, and that the est training makes use of traditional methods of coercive thought control.

“There is tremendous control exerted over the individual’s environment during the training,” he said. “Certain dynamics tend to occur in situations like that… In most situations individuals come to identify with the aggressive, somewhat punitive tactics of the individuals in charge.”

Nevertheless, Reiser stops short of labeling est brainwashing because he says the trainers dis not try to instill a particular “philosophy or point of view.”

In Reiser’s view est “falls into the category of a psycho-therapeutic program,” although the organization calls itself an “educational corporation.”

Which it is, Police Protective League board member Tony Amador said the est training is not likely to be repeated for those who missed it the first time.

“(Est) won’t get another (training program) through the league,” he said. “And if they ask us for letters of recommendation, they won’t get it on our stationary.”

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