Legal Observers and Cop-Watchers
Guidelines, Strategy and Tactics for Legal Observers
The primary role of a legal observer is that of a witness who watches and records the actions of the police at demonstrations. Observers are important because they may deter police brutality, provide information which may be helpful in later court proceedings, and provide follow-up on the special needs of arrestees, such as those unexpectedly arrested or those needing medical attention.
Our strategy is to have several levels of observation at demonstrations.
Disseminating legal information to as many of those attending the demonstration as possible. Have trained legal observers throughout the demonstration areas. Planning emergency response teams comprised of observers, attorneys and people with video cameras.
What a Legal Observer is
For several decades, groups such as NLG and the ACLU have utilized individuals to act as witnesses during political demonstrations. These individuals record the details of what they see so that they can later be witnesses.
The role of a legal observer differs in important ways from that of a peace monitor or spokesperson. Legal observers should not become involved in crowd control, conflict resolution, or speaking for demonstrators. Police officers and the media will always be looking for leaders to negotiate with or speak with. Be direct with them that you are here as an observer and that you are only here as an observer.
It is important that the observer not do anything to detract from that credibility. This means:
What to Bring
Use of a Buddy System
Legal observers should always work in teams of two or more. This provides a measure of security, as you always have a witness. It also provides additional corroboration should you observe anything. It is helpful to work with someone you know, so if you are considering becoming a legal observer, you may want to recruit a friend. It is also a good idea for less experienced observers to work with more experienced ones during their initial outings, if this is possible.
Proximity to Police
Legal observers should try to get as close to the incident as possible. In doing this observers should try to maintain a calm demeanor and make no sudden movements that could be construed as threatening.
Legal observers are there to observe what is taking place, and to witness it. They should take extensive notes. Since legal observers are there to focus on what the police are doing, their notes should capture the details of what the police are doing. Their notes should include time and location of incidents, as well as circumstances that led up to the incident. These notes should be rewritten later when the incident is still fresh in the observer's mind.
The following is a checklist of things to write down:
After the demonstration, please take the time to transcribe your notes. Give a copy to a legal coordinator. Keep a copy of the notes in a secure location. Remember it may be months before this information is needed by lawyers putting together a legal defense or by you on the witness stand.
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