Readers, as I was in the middle of researching my originally intended Fame Day I was interrupted by the sound of pounding outside my door. It was the cops, interrogating my next door neighbor about the last time he saw someone. I stood by the door, listening- though the primary cop speaking was yelling so loudly I really didn’t have to. Of course, it just made me extra sure I got his exact words:
“I hate this fucking complex.”
“I will give you shit until you give me what I want.”
Other, similar statements followed- though I try to observe Evan’s general rule of keeping profanity to a minimum. The neighbor repeatedly said that he hadn’t seen they guy they were after, which only resulted in both more shouting from the cop and, from the sound of it, him stomping into the apartment. Without a warrant or the consent of the my neighbor, which constitutes a violation of his 4th amendment rights.
After going on a bit longer about how much he despised this apartment complex (nice to know that if I’m ever in trouble, Vegas Metro will be giving me their all), the cops left, and I decided it was high time I covered this particular aspect of our culture.
Now all that aside, this is not an attack on the Las Vegas Metro PD or the institution of police as a whole. Rather, this is a salute to the brave men and women who watch the watchmen.
Yep, I’m talking about “Cop Watch”.
Now while there’s there’s a lot of different networks (usually there’s at least one in any major city), “Cop Watch” doesn’t refer to any overarching organization, but rather the practice of citizens filming police activities. This can mean anything from getting together with other activists and routinely following patrol cars on dispatch to just whipping out a camera phone when a cop pulls someone in the next lane over. While police brutality is not a new phenomenon, certainly not in the US…
…it’s technology we really have to thank for this trend. The ability of most every individual to capture (and livestream) videos to the whole world has helped produce tools for accountability unheard of in human history. “The camera doesn’t lie”, as the old saying goes, and thanks to ’em cases of abuse of power and brutality that once could’ve been dismissed due to lack of hard evidence now have to be dealt with. Take, for example the case of this elderly disabled man, pulled from his wheelchair and subsequently beaten by the Rochester PD:
At just around the 1 minute mark you can hear one of the horrified bystanders shout “look at his leg!”, referring to the prosthetic leg the man had. While Benny Warr, the man beaten, may never be able to walk again, the video record of the event has served to both galvanize the local community into action and exists as irrefutable evidence of the police’s excessive use of force.
Of course, Cop Watch activists are not themselves free from harassment and arrest themselves. March of 2012 saw Las Vegas Metro PD pay out $100,000 to a man intimidated and attacked for filming police action. November of last year saw a Cop Watch activist arrested and held in a cell for 11 hours for filming a traffic stop. Just a couple months before that, a Cop Watch activist was arrested in North Carolina for filming another arrest, again facing the same kind of bystander intimidation that has become common with these cases (the arresting cop has since been suspended).
In spite of the increasing awareness of the legality of filming the police, and the repeated affirmations by state and federal courts, there are countless cases of police stating otherwise. With so many officers either unaware of the law, or purposefully ignoring it, the necessity of these activists is all the more apparent.
Something has to be said for the courage of these activists as well. These people head out knowing that their mission is to document police abuse and brutality, and are fully aware that that abuse and brutality could just as easily be turned against them.
Granted, some Cop Watchers can be snarky or obnoxious, but the simple truth of the matter is that if an officer of the law can’t handle sarcasm and a smartphone they probably shouldn’t be tasked with keeping murderers off of the street.
Thanks to pressure from Cop Watch activists, there’s a new trend starting in some cities where police are being required to wear cameras on their person and record their shifts. Rialto, CA has implemented this policy and seen an 88% drop in complaints filed against police. Rialto has also seen a 66% drop in police use of force- which when you think about it means that 66% of the beatings prior to this policy didn’t have to happen.
That statistic only gets more shocking the more you think about it. A freaking 66% drop in use of force, and all thanks to the fact that the cops were on film. That speaks volumes, both to the efficacy of this kind of program and the tragedy that it hasn’t been implemented elsewhere. Until that time, we’ve got Cop Watch, people sacrificing their time and sometimes their safety and freedom to ensure that you and I have protection from those supposed to protect us.
To all you out there- keep fighting the good fight.