This handbook is intended to introduce people to the main concepts of police observation. It is far from complete and we certainly learn more every day. It is true that in different parts of the country and in different situations, the people will devise COPWATCHing methods which better suit their own situation. Please use the information in this handbook as a way of stimulating discussion in your organization and providing a basis for forming your own police monitoring project. It can be quite challenging and at times rewarding. Good luck. Hope this helps.
Who is COPWATCH?
We are a group of community residents and students who have become outraged by the escalation of police misconduct, harassment and brutality in recent years. We have joined together to fight for our rights and the rights of our community by taking on the task of directly monitoring police conduct. Thats right. We walk the streets and watch the police. Although it is important to resist police brutality by taking cops to court, filing complaints and having demonstrations, we believe that it is crucial to be in the streets letting the police know that THE PEOPLE will hold them accountable for their behavior in the community. We have no single political or religious belief. Our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. What we share is the belief that citizen participation in these issues and monitoring of the police is a crucial first step towards building a movement which is capable of stopping police violence and of challenging the increasingly powerful role of police throughout our society.
If you have been a victim of police abuse, witnesses abuse or are just plain fed up with police misconduct and want to do something about it, give us a call. We will train you to COPWATCH. We also need artists, writers, researchers, outreach workers, organizers and others to help. We are an all volunteer group so your help is ALWAYS needed!
It is helpful for COPWATCHers to have an understanding of a few key legal concepts before going out to watch cops. You dont have to be a lawyer to document police activity, but if you want to be more assertive about your rights and those of the community then it is worth taking some time to become familiar with the law.
There are many sources of law. The ones that are most relevant to COPWATCH are the state laws which are found in your state's Penal Code and local laws which are part of the Municipal Code. In addition, there are federal laws that you probably wont run into much on the streets. However, it is worth knowing that everyones civil rights are, at least theoretically, protected under the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
Types of Violations
These are minor offenses such as jaywalking, illegal parking, open container of alcohol in public, being in certain parks after curfew, being a minor in possession of spray paint or large marking pens, etc. When an officer sees this kind of activity, s/he can ask to see I.D. If you have I.D. and you do not have any outstanding warrants, the cop should just write you a ticket and be done with it. If you dont have I.D. on you, the cop HAS THE OPTION OF TAKING YOU TO THE STATION TO VERIFY YOUR IDENTITY OR SIMPLY WRITING YOU A TICKET AND LETTING YOU GO. This is up to the officer. You arent supposed to have to go to jail for infractions in and of themselves.
These are crimes such as shoplifting, trespassing, resisting, delaying or interfering with an officer in the course of his/her duty. Expect that you will be searched, arrested and taken to jail until you are either arraigned, bailed out or released on your own recognizance. (O.R.ed)
These are major crimes. Murder, rape, robbery and many drug related crimes are considered to be felonies. Expect that you will be searched thoroughly and will be in custody at least until you are arraigned.
Types of Stops
It is very important that you understand why an officer is stopping someone and what their rights are when they are stopped. Determine exactly what kind of stop the officer is making.
This is when the cop approaches you and begins talking to you. The cop may even ask to see your I.D. You dont have to show it. Ask the cop Am I free to go?. You dont have to talk to the cop or even remain in the area unless the cop says No, you cant go and has a reasonable suspicion to detain you.
The police are allowed to detain you if they have a reasonable suspicion to believe that you have committed or are about to commit a crime. The officer must have some reason for stopping you. They cant just say that you dont look like you live in the neighborhood or that they had a hunch. The detention should be limited in its purpose and scope. They can conduct a pat search of the outside of your clothing in order to check for weapons, but you DO NOT HAVE TO CONSENT TO A SEARCH of your pockets or bags. You do not have to answer any questions. You may want to produce your I.D. in order to avoid being detained for a longer time while they try to verify your identity.
This means that you are in police custody and you are being charged with a crime. You will be thoroughly searched as part of the booking process. You have a right to know why you are being arrested. Even though police often wont tell you, you have the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer. Dont give up these rights.
Extra Legal Info
Legally, when a person is arrested or detained by a police officer, he or she does not have to answer any questions to the officer, on the grounds that it may be self-incriminating. (Miranda codes).
Resisting or Obstructing an Officer
The police will often threaten COPWATCHers with this charge, but remember you do have the right to observe as long as you are not attempting to interfere with the officer.
Use of Force to Effect Arrest
Section 835.a of the California Penal Code describes the only legal use of force by an officer is in order to attain an arrest. Any peace officer who has reasonable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a public offense may use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape or to overcome resistance.
Assault by an Officer
Police brutality is defined in the California Penal Code as, Police breaches of due process guarantees by the physical abuse of citizens without legitimate cause. Section 149 of the California Penal Code makes it illegal for a cop to assault or beat any person without lawful necessity.
Police Search Powers
The police have the power to question someone only if they have reasonable suspicion that specific facts connect that person to a specific crime. In this case, the cops can also pat someone down to feel for a weapon, and if they feel something that feels like a weapon, they can go into that persons clothing to look for it. Otherwise the cops can only search someones pockets, back pack, or belongings if that person:
1. Has been arrested for a specific crime,
2. Has a search clause as a condition of probation, or
3. Gives the police permission, which nobody is obliged to do.
Police Seizure Powers
Police may not confiscate someones belongings unless they are illegal or that person has been arrested for a crime. If possessions are confiscated, the California Penal Code entitles the owner to a receipt (1535) and a return of the possessions after the resolution of the case (1537). Any evidence obtained through the seizure may be suppressed from being used in court if the seizure was unreasonable (1538.5).
Sometimes cops use petty laws to stop people in order to take their pictures. These photos are often used to create files on people and to portray people as gang members. Detaining people to take photos merely because they are suspected gang members is impermissible. (People vs. Rodriguez (1993) 21 Cal. App. 4th 232.)
Various State and Local Laws you should Research in your Area
Intimidation Through Accountability
main tactic in COPWATCH will be to discourage police brutality and harassment
by letting the cops know that their actions are being recorded and that
they will be held accountable for their acts of harassment and abuse.
To this end we will:
People dont want to be arrested. As COPWATCHers, we dont want to escalate a situation to where police arrest someone as a way of getting back at us. We want cops to treat people with respect and to observe their rights. Often, cops forget that homeless people and others actually have rights. We may need to remind them from time to time. We must learn how to assert our rights and to encourage others to assert their rights without endangering someone who is already in some amount of trouble.
We do not attempt to interfere with officers as they make routine arrests. We document and try to inform the cops when we feel that they are violating policy or the law. Attempting to stop someone from being arrested often has serious consequences for the person being detained as well as for the reputation of COPWATCH as being a non-violence based organization. In a physical encounter with police, we must realize that the cops have weapons, prisons, courts and judges to back them up. In addition, we do not want people to be nervous when they see COPWATCH coming to help them. We want to keep people from going to jail in the first place and not send them to jail with more serious charges.
Empower the Community
As people on the streets serving the public, we are not only concerned with the cops. We are concerned about the PEOPLE. Our effectiveness as COPWATCHERS will be greatly enhanced if we are trusted by the community. During our shifts, we must try to get to know the people who hang out on the street. For this reason we will try to schedule people who know the area with those who are newer to the scene. Building relationship is crucial. We can listen to people and help when it is possible. This aspect of COPWATCH depends on the willingness of the members to get to know and appreciate the street community.
When the streets are quiet and there is no police activity, a COPWATCHer can spend time distributing the Know Your Rights cards or just getting to know people. Introduce yourself. Explain to people that you are with COPWATCH and that you want to hear their stories. If people know that you are trying to help and that you care, that can be empowering.
Depending on how familiar and/or comfortable you are, you can assist people with problems that arise. We want our community to solve problems wherever possible WITHOUT POLICE INTERVENTION. If you can help folks resolve a conflict, communicate, understand each other you are doing great. It is crucial that we move our communities away from the idea that we are totally dependent upon police for justice and safety.
Be sure that you or your partner brings things you will need to COPWATCH:
1. Incident forms
2. COPWATCH Handbook
3. Complaint Forms (BPD and UCPD)
4. COPWATCH literature to distribute
5. Tape recorder, scanner, video recorder, cameras
6. Penal Code
Shifts last for approximately 3 hours. Please be on time for your shift as your partner is probably waiting for you. If you are unable to work your shift please call your partner and the shift coordinator so that you can get a substitute.
Try to be on the street for as much of your shift as possible (dont spend an hour in a coffee shop). Be where people can see and talk to you. After each incident, take time to fully fill out the incident report.
As you observe a situation, one partner records what officers are saying or doing, while the other one quietly gets information from witnesses. Consult and share information. Get a firm grasp of the situation FIRST. Record as much information as possible. Witness names and numbers and badge numbers are most important. In fact, every officer must wear either a number or a nameplate when they are in uniform. (California Penal Code section 830.10) It also helps to write down when, where and what time the incident happened. If there has been an injury, encourage the person to see a doctor and take pictures of the injuries as soon as possible.
Remember that you have the right to watch the cops. You dont have the right to interfere. Interfering with a cop is a violation of California penal code section 148 (delaying, obstructing or resisting arrest). If a cop wants to send you a message, they will arrest you for 148 and then, even if they dont press charges, you still had to go through the unpleasant experience of being arrested.
When you observe police remember that you dont want to make the cop more nervous than they already are. Keep your hands visible at all times. Dont approach an officer from behind or stand behind them. Dont make any sudden movements or raise your voice to the cop. Try to keep the situation calm. You dont want to get the person in more trouble. If an officer tells you to step back, tell the officer that YOU DO NOT WANT TO INTERFERE, YOU SIMPLY WISH TO OBSERVE.
More Assertive Style:
Be Careful of:
Dont inadvertently collaborate in a crime (dont become a look-out, warning if police are coming, etc.)
Dont let people use COPWATCH name to shied illegal stuff.
You may get arrested at times, but if you are doing good COPWATCHING the organization will support you.
Talking to cops is a bad idea. It can undermine your credibility with the community as well as giving the police information about you and the group.
Taking pictures or videotaping can be a problem if the detainee doesnt want you to. Respect them. Tell them that you are working to stop police misconduct. If this doesnt satisfy them, turn off the camera. Remember that you are representing COPWATCH with every act and every word.
Those that come after you will have an easier time if you do your job well.
Dont make promises that you/we cant keep. Dont tell people that we will get them a lawyer, take the cops to court, etc. Tell people that we will work with them to get justice. Invite them to a meeting.
Dont be afraid to say I dont know if you are asked legal questions. Better that than giving out wrong information.
Return completed incident reports to the office. Be sure that they are legible and that you put your name on it in case office people need to do follow-up. Check the weekly COPWATCH shift log and sign it. Return scanner and any other equipment to the office for the next COPWATCHers to use. Please check the equipment and note if anything is wrong with it.
In Case of Arrest
If you are arrested, the police must tell you why you are being arrested. Also, be sure to get the badge number of the officer who is arresting you. You have the right to remain silent. In fact, it is probably a good idea not to talk to the officer. If you are in custody, the police may not question you about any offense they think you have committed without first reading you your rights., including the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present before you are questioned. The court must provide you with a lawyer if you cant afford one. You have the right to speak to a lawyer before arraignment. If you are arrested, you may be searched without your permission. As soon as possible, and in no case later than three hours after booking, you have the right to three phone calls: to a friend or relative, to a lawyer and to a bail bondsman.
If Someone Else is Arrested
Find out where they are being held, what the charges are and how much bail is.
The scanner is a portable radio that is used to monitor police radio communications. There are 100 channels in the scanner, each tuned to a frequency used by either UC or Berkeley police. The scanner controls that a COPWATCHer may want to use are described here:
VOLUME: This knob is on the top of the scanner that adjusts the volume coming out of the speaker or headphone. It also turns off the scanner so remember this when you are finishing your shift.
SQUELCH: This knob, right next to the volume knob, is adjusted to cut out the static between messages. Its like the mute button on an FM tuner.
MANUEL/SCAN: These are two buttons on the front of the scanner. When the scanner is first turned on, it is in scan mode, meaning that it flips through all 100 channels repeatedly until it comes to a channel being used. It will monitor this channel until the transmission is ended and then resume scanning the 100 channels. Sometimes, you might want to stay on just one channel to monitor an important exchange. To do this, press the MANUAL button. The scanner will stay on the current channel. Every time you press the MANUAL button, you go up one channel. Pressing the SCAN button resumes scanning.
When using the scanner, you are basically listening for locations. You want to find out WHERE to go to observe the police. Dont be distracted by all of the other conversation happening on the scanner. Also, in recent years, the police have reduced their use of radios and rely more on cell phones and computer terminals in their cars. Dont worry if you arent hearing much. There might not be much going on.
If the scanner starts to act funny, the batteries are probably going dead. It uses four AA batteries. If you have to buy batteries while on shift, save you receipt so that we can reimburse you later.
Also, try to be discreet when using the scanner. It can easily make people on the street think that you are a cop or are working in some official capacity for the state. Keep it in your backpack and use it like you would a walkman.
Police Radio 10 Codes for Berkeley, CA. (May be similar in other cities)
has a 8mm video camcorder which is a very powerful tool for documenting
police abuses. Its operation is very simple, but the importance of thinking
about what you are taping cant be stressed enough. This handbook
cant teach you how to be a skilled videographer, but here are some
points to keep in mind when filming:
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