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He Trained Calgary Police Long After ‘Scam’ Warnings

Paid by the force, Robert Perkins used methods that can harm, say experts. His ‘college’ has a strip mall address. First of two.

Charles Rusnell 23 Jan

Charles Rusnell is an independent investigative reporter based in Edmonton.

Neil Kirkpatrick tried. 

In fact, he went well beyond his duty as a psychologist to warn the Calgary Police Service he believed it was being duped by a prolific Canadian con man. With a dubious resume, “Dr.” Robert L. Perkins had created an entire industry that targeted police services and officers across North America, peddling bogus degrees, useless credentials and potentially harmful PTSD training.

Kirkpatrick, a clinical and police psychologist and adjunct professor at the University of Washington, laid it all out in meticulous detail in a Feb. 3, 2022 email to Stacey Ferland, the Calgary Police Service’s executive director of wellness and resiliency. 

But to no avail. 

Ferland appears to have done nothing with Kirkpatrick’s information. Instead, she continued to work on an online PhD from Perkins’ unaccredited California-based College of Certified Psychophysiologists. The college’s head office is a Postal Express outlet next to a nail salon in an Anaheim strip mall. Its Canadian office is a postal box outlet on Kingsway Avenue in Vancouver.

Eight months after Kirkpatrick explicitly warned Ferland, he was astonished to learn she had completed her PhD in clinical police psychophysiology from the college, a fact Perkins had touted in website and Facebook posts.

And Perkins had become so embedded in the CPS he had been invited to speak to officers in Calgary on Sept. 13 and to present an honorary degree to a CPS sergeant — with Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld’s approval.

“I can only characterize it as bizarre,” Kirkpatrick said.

“I am a clinical psychologist. I generally do a pretty good job of putting together a functional analysis of behaviour, figuring out motivations,” he said. “I can't quite wrap my head around it because it's such an obvious house of cards. How does this not turn and go wrong on them?”

Which is exactly what happened after Global News published an article by me and colleague Jennie Russell on Sept. 8 that first revealed the police service, including its chief, had been bamboozled by Perkins, a Canadian originally from Oshawa, Ontario, who now appears to divide his time between Los Angeles and B.C.’s Lower Mainland. 

The police service cancelled Perkins’ scheduled Sept. 13 appearance, ended its association with his college, and conducted a criminal investigation. Internal and external reviews are ongoing.

One education fraud expert, in the Global article, pronounced degrees from Perkins’ unaccredited school not worth the paper they are printed on. During his career spanning over three decades, retired FBI special agent Allen Ezell made a specialty of probing and closing shady degree mills. Looking at Perkins’ College of Certified Psychophysiologists, Ezell said, “I would not trust it. I wouldn’t give its diploma any credibility whatsoever. It has no academic value. To me, it’s a fraud, it’s a scam. It’s a mirage, it’s not real.” In Vancouver, Rhodes Wellness College ended its association with Perkins who it claimed was being vetted as an instructor when the article appeared. 

Perkins granted an honorary degree to former Whistler firefighter Terrance Kosikar, who founded a charity to help PTSD survivors after responding to a horrific luge accident at the 2010 Winter Olympics that killed a Georgian athlete. Kosikar recently said he would delete every reference to the honorary degree on his social media. (The Tyee will publish more on this aspect of the story tomorrow.)

Calgary police payments to Perkins

The Calgary Police Commission said the CPS paid about $30,000 to Perkins for training. Over the past year, two employees had enrolled in degree programs from the college even though the service’s own internal policy bars education from unaccredited institutions. Three others received a “Police Mental Health Certificate,” and 16 members attended a two-day “Critical Incident Stress Debrief” course.

Ferland and Neufeld declined interview requests. In an emailed statement, CPS spokesperson Michael Nunn said the province’s director of law enforcement determined the matter didn’t require an outside investigation. 

The service conducted its own criminal investigation, which Nunn said was reviewed by another police service. The investigation focused on whether any CPS members had committed fraud-related offences. It found no grounds to lay any criminal charges. 

Nunn, however, refuses to answer the question of why there has been no investigation of whether Perkins defrauded the CPS.

The CPS is also conducting a workplace investigation to determine if any employees committed misconduct, including by breaching CPS policy. Last week, Nunn told The Tyee that Ferland has resigned from the CPS.

Nunn previously confirmed the review was looking at Ferland’s other educational credentials. It is not known what role, if any, they played in Ferland’s ascension to a top civilian position within the CPS. 

Ferland’s LinkedIn account had referenced a master’s degree from the St. James the Elder Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Florida. It also said she received online counsellor training from the Esoteric Interfaith Seminary and Interfaith Church. In addition to online masters and doctorate degrees, Esoteric offers official ordination as a minister or even a rabbi for a US$150 “donation.”

“Get ordained today, officiate a marriage tomorrow,” its website touts. 

Online profile ‘didn’t add up’: Kirkpatrick

Perkins has claimed online to have worked as a “police sergeant” in the Toronto area for 14 years, but has not said which department. The Tyee was not able to find any evidence he has worked as a police officer.

Mount Royal University criminologist Kelly Sundberg said the Perkins episode is more than an embarrassment for the service. He said it reveals shocking ineptness by CPS senior management and a serious lack of oversight by the city’s police commission.

“This is a police service that is supposed to investigate crime and frauds, not get defrauded itself,” Sundberg said. “The public’s confidence in the police service is, without question, eroded by this.”

Kirkpatrick said he first ran across Perkins when he was contacted by the Washington State Criminal Justice State Training Commission and asked to vet the credentials of Perkins, who was seeking to be listed as a preferred provider. 

Then he looked at Perkins’ email signature and saw academic letters behind his name that he didn’t recognize. 

“So I looked at his LinkedIn profile, which immediately didn't add up,” he said. Perkins claimed to be board certified but psychophysiology is not a recognized profession and has no official designation.

He soon “started going down the rabbit hole” of online research, uncovering within a couple hours Perkins’ complex web of false academic credentials, and experience. He also found an ever-expanding array of so-called non-profit organizations spread across North America, all designed to generate revenue through spurious PTSD therapy training, stress counselling, chaplaincy accreditation courses and the sale of merchandise. 

Kirkpatrick told the state training commission Perkins was likely a scam artist. 

“And they said, ‘Well, we dodged the bullet, we won't list him.’”

851px version of PerkinsAsChaplain.jpg
Perkins said he held chaplain credentials from an international organization that denies his claim. On the left, he poses as a chaplain with a California police badge; on the right with a Canadian one.

But Kirkpatrick said he couldn’t leave it alone. His own training told him that Perkins spreads disinformation about traditional PTSD treatments and the unproven treatments he offers could harm people. Perkins denigrated traditionally accepted science and treatment methods and painted himself as a brave contrarian fighting against the suppression of his revolutionary PTSD treatment method. 

Perkins did not respond to several interview requests.

In a rebuttal video posted to the college’s website after the publication of the Global News exposé, Perkins claimed that during his 20-year quest to help people he had made “many adversaries” among academia, “Big Pharma,” and mental and physical health associations to which he posed a threat.

“Why did I represent a threat? Because I brought something to the table that jeopardizes the business model of what they were doing.” 

In a Feb. 12, 2020 podcast, Perkins claimed the success rate for traditional PTSD therapy is “extremely low.” Only about 15 per cent of military veterans complete traditional PTSD treatment, he said, “because people don’t find it effective and they find it more traumatizing than if they weren’t getting help.

“And if you look at the billions of dollars that is represented in PTSD medication with Big Pharma and everything else, there is really no incentive for people to cure people's ailments quickly, at least certainly in the United States. And it's much the same in Canada.”

Kirkpatrick said Perkins’ disinformation may stop people from seeking treatment. Traditional PTSD treatment methods, he said, are extremely effective.

“It's one of the few things that psychology has figured out how to treat with high efficacy,” he said. 

The critical incident stress debriefing that Perkins teaches doesn’t address the memories that trigger PTSD nor the need to cognitively restructure how a person processes those memories. 

Instead, Kirkpatrick said, “critical incident stress debriefing says, ‘Don't talk about the memory, just talk about how you feel about it.’

“And so you have a group of traumatized people sitting around saying what the worst thing was for them, if you can get them to talk at all, and that actually just makes it worse for other people.”

Perkins’ claim that only 15 per cent of veterans complete traditional PTSD treatment is false, Kirkpatrick said. It’s about 75 per cent. 

There have been only a couple reputable studies of critical incident stress debriefing on CISD and Kirkpatrick said they found either no benefit, or that it worsened people’s PTSD.

“That is why many governmental and scientific institutions recommend strongly against the use of CISD, including the World Health Organization, the American Red Cross, the National Institute of Mental Health, the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and others,” he said. 

Yet the Calgary Police Service hired Perkins, who has no formal training as a psychologist, to provide CISD training to 16 of its members.

It is already difficult, due to police culture, to convince officers to seek help for PTSD, he said. So when officers find out their senior administration allowed a con man to conduct training, “not only does it alienate officers from their own administration, it alienates them from, and damages the reputation of, mental health treatment.”

In its statement to The Tyee, the CPS said its internal review has so far found none of Perkins’ training has been incorporated into the police service’s counselling.

Warnings, an alias, and chaplain insignia

Kirkpatrick first reached out to Stacey Ferland on Feb. 3, 2022 for two reasons. 

The first: he had been contracted by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission to help write a proposal to the state legislature. The commission wanted to create a police officer wellness program similar to the Calgary Police Service psychological services division and he asked Ferland for advice on how it was set up in Calgary.

“As a second unfortunate matter, I see that you recently thanked Robert Perkins for training he did for you,” Kirkpatrick wrote, and then explained how he had come to know about Perkins and what his research had uncovered.

Perkins, he told Ferland, also used the alias Amani Maxwell and variously claimed to have one or multiple PhDs.

“Mr. Perkins has set up an online fake university, a fake licensing board and granted himself a licence, several fake non-profits and charities, and fake academies for police chaplains,” Kirkpatrick told Ferland. 

“There are at least nine separate businesses, licensing boards, and non-profits all linked back to the same [post office] box at a [Postal Express] store in Anaheim, California.”

Perkins also claimed to be a board member of Black Minds Matter Canada, which Kirkpatrick had determined did not exist.

Kirkpatrick provided an extensive list of links to websites set up by Perkins to support his various scams. He included links that showed the College of Certified Psychophysiologists was not accredited. 

There also was a link that showed Perkins had registered a second non-profit — a Baptist church — at that same Anaheim address.

More links showed Perkins had set up the Ontario Critical Incident Stress Foundation, which operated from the same Anaheim postal box address as the college. This same foundation had in turn accredited Perkins as a “Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress” and as a “Certified Critical Incident Stress Debriefer.” 

It was these fake credentials that Perkins traded on to provide PTSD training to the Calgary Police Service and other police services in the U.S.

Kirkpatrick also showed Ferland that Perkins had created an industry around chaplaincy.

Perkins is the executive director of the Canadian Practical Chaplain Association. It shares the same phone number as the California Practical Chaplain Association, of which he is also the executive director and chief of chaplains. The California organization operates from the same Anaheim strip mall postal box.

582px version of PerkinsAnaheimChief.jpg
Perkins, posing as a police chaplain, with Anaheim, California police Chief Jorge Cisneros in 2019. Photo via Facebook.

The association’s website states it trains chaplains to serve in police and fire departments, corporations and prisons, and with athletes, including surfers. 

The association provides training to become a certified chaplain for $299.99 and once certified, a member can purchase a uniform and a wide range of chaplain’s badges, including a surfing chaplain’s badge, for $149.99, or a badge wallet for $49.99.

Perkins posted two portrait-style photos of himself in a chaplain’s uniform. They are identical except that in one he wears a California chaplain’s badge with a U.S. flag in the background and in the other a Canadian chaplain’s badge with a Canadian flag behind him.

He wore a chaplain’s uniform to police events and claimed to be licensed by the U.S.-based International Fellowship of Chaplains. The IFOC disavows that claim.  

Perkins’ penchant for wearing costumes extended to his attempt to falsely claim he has published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. A Jan. 26, 2021 Facebook post by the Ontario Critical Incident Stress Foundation features a photo of Perkins in a white lab coat beneath what appears to be an abstract summary. 

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Perkins falsely claimed to have published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Photo via Facebook.

Kirkpatrick said Perkins simply copied an online form from the journal and pasted it in text to make it appear as if his “study” about post COVID-19 traumatic stress syndrome had been published in the highly respected medical journal.

When Kirkpatrick, and later The Tyee, typed “#pctss” in Facebook’s hashtag search function, they discovered Perkins had posted his bogus publication claim on Facebook pages for new critical incident stress foundations he had created in Arizona, New York, Colorado, Minnesota, Indiana and other states.

Kirkpatrick told The Tyee he had watched YouTube videos and listened to podcasts in which Perkins describes his PTSD treatment methods. He called it “nonsensical psychobabble” and he said Perkins’ articles about PTSD he found online are “farcical and have no scientific value.”

The website for the Canadian Practical Chaplain Association includes Perkins’ biography. In it, he claims to have received his master’s degree of theology in 2002 and that same year became an ordained minister with the United Christian Faith Ministries. He refers to himself as “reverend” in some of his online biographies.

In November 2012, a decade after apparently being ordained, Perkins, using his alias Amani Maxwell and looking decidedly unchaplain-like, promoted on Twitter an appearance with his wife, Veronica Maxwell. 

In the Twitter post, Perkins said “The Goddess and The Doctor” would be at Club M4, a Toronto swingers club, where they would be fielding questions about kink and fetish. 

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Robert Perkins also used the alias Amani Maxwell. While he claimed to be an ordained minister, he and his wife Veronica Maxwell were active in Toronto's kink and fetish scene in 2012. 

Kirkpatrick ended his email to Ferland by telling her that police officers need increased access to “the highest quality mental health services, and fraudulent practices like those Mr. Perkins employs, damages the standing of all legitimate psychological service providers in the eyes of law enforcement. 

“I hope to speak with you in the near future.”

Ferland responded to his email but made no reference to the information he had provided about Perkins. 

Kirkpatrick has warned several other police services in the United States about Perkins but most did nothing.

“If somebody out there is a fraud who is doing bad training, it’s putting people directly at risk,” Kirkpatrick said, “and more officers die from suicide every year than do in the line of duty.”

In the second piece in this two-part series: 'Burned by a Shady PTSD 'Expert,' a B.C. charity founder and a college administrator say they were misled by Perkins, and cut ties.

If you have information about this or another story, please contact Charles Rusnell in confidence via email.  [Tyee]

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