Formation 1990

Copwatch (also Cop Watch) is a network of activist organizations in the United States and Canada that observe and document police activity while looking for signs of police misconduct and police brutality. They believe that monitoring police activity on the streets is a way to prevent police brutality.[1]

The stated goal of at least one Copwatch group is to engage in monitoring and videotaping police activity in the interest of holding the police accountable in the events involving assaults or police misconduct.[2]

Copwatch was first started in Berkeley, California in 1990.[3]


Copwatch methods

June 2008 Copwatch-Columbus Flyer

The main function of most Copwatch groups is monitoring police activity. "Copwatchers" go out on foot or driving patrols in their communities and record interactions between the police and civilians. Copwatchers hope that monitoring police activity will provide a deterrent against police misconduct. Some groups also patrol at protests and demonstrations to ensure that police do not violate the rights of protesters. One Copwatch organization states that it has a policy of non-interference with the police, although this may not be true for all groups.[4] In Phoenix, Arizona, copwatchers have increased efforts of "reverse surveillance" on the police in an effort to document racial profiling.[5] They believe that Arizona Senate Bill 1070, a controversial law that allows police to question people they believe are illegal immigrants, will increase racial profiling by police.[5]

Copwatch groups also hold "Know Your Rights" forums to educate the public about their legal and human rights when interacting with the police, and some groups organize events to highlight problems of police abuse in their communities.[6]


Kendra James killing

In 2004 Kendra James was fatally shot by Portland, Oregon Officer Scott McCollister as she attempted to drive away from a traffic stop with Officer McCollister attempting to pull her out of the vehicle. After the shooting Copwatch offered a reward for a photograph of McCollister. It then produced and distributed posters bearing McCollister's photo and the phrase "Getting away with murder." The author of an editorial article in Willamette Week said that their personal opinion was that the poster was "inflamed rhetoric" and said that they thought it would harm "the relationship between the Portland police and the community it serves," as well as claiming that protest posters put up by the Rose City chapter of Copwatch were aimed at "inciting generalized anti-cop hysteria at the expense of informed criticism." A member of the Rose City Copwatch group, which seeks to "disrupt the polices ability to enforce race and class lines",[7] says that the shooting "demonstrate[s] a culture of racism and brutality that's really sort of at the core of policing."[8] A grand jury later found no criminal wrongdoing on McCollister's part.[9]

William Cardenas video

November 3, 2006: Video showing an LAPD officer striking William Cardenas 6 times in the face as he struggles to prevent the officers from handcuffing him.

On November 3, 2006, CopWatch LA posted a video showing the arrest of William Cardenas, whom police described as a "a known gang member who had been wanted on a felony warrant for receiving stolen property". According to the arrest report, when officers tried to arrest Cardenas as he was drinking beer on the sidewalk with two others, he fled, but was caught and tripped by the officers, who then began to attempt to handcuff Cardenas as he fought with the officers to avoid being arrested.

The video, in which Cardenas struggles to prevent the police from handcuffing him, shows an officer repeatedly punching him in the face while trying to force his hands together. The officers indicated that they were unable to subdue Cardenas with pepper spray, which seemed to have "little effect", and that some of the punches were delivered in response to Cardenas putting his hand on one officer's gun holster during the struggle. According to the arrest report, several witnesses confirmed that Cardenas threw punches at the officers, who were only able to handcuff him after two of his friends arrived and told him to stop fighting.[10][11]

The circulation of this video led to nationwide media coverage of Copwatch, and, although the LAPD had begun a use-of-force investigation the same day as the arrest, prompted an additional investigation into police conduct by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[12] A Superior Court commissioner had previously concluded that the use of force was reasonable because Cardenas was resisting arrest.[10]


Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio expressed concern that copwatchers videotaping police encounters create potential problems for officers' safety,[13] and some law enforcement agencies have responded to the surge in amateur videos by installing cameras in squad cars to protect officers against false allegations.[14] According to Tim Dees, editor-in-chief of, Copwatch selectively distributes video and photographic media to "spin" incidents against law enforcement.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Nicholas Mirzoeff (2002). The Visual Culture Reader, 2nd edition. Routledge. p. 390. ISBN 0415252229. 
  2. ^ Torin Monahan (2006). Surveillance and Security: Technological Politics and Power in Everyday Life. Routledge. p. 152. ISBN 978-0415953931. 
  3. ^ Crimes and Trials of the Century: From the Black Sox Scandal to the Attica Prison Riots. Greenwood Publishing Group. 2007. p. 157. ISBN 0313341109. 
  4. ^ "About Phoenix Copwatch". Phoenix Copwatch. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  5. ^ a b Emanuella Grinberg (May 11, 2010). "Cop-watchers look for racial profiling on the streets of Phoenix". CNN. 
  6. ^ Michelle Chen (2005). "‘Copwatch’ Activists Patrol Communities to Thwart Police Misconduct". The New Standard. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  7. ^ "What We Want". Rose City Copwatch. Retrieved 2011-07-23. 
  8. ^ "Portland's crazed leftists / Arissa / Rose City Copwatch”". Willamette Week. Retrieved 2004-04-14. 
  9. ^ Maxine Bernstein. "Officer in James death to return to duty". Portland Oregonian. Retrieved 2008-10-06. 
  10. ^ a b "Alleged LAPD Brutality Video Sparks Probe". CBS News. 2006-11-09. Retrieved 2006-11-10. 
  11. ^ Richard Winton; Patrick McGreevy and Andrew Blankstein (2006-11-11). "Video, arrest report at odds". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2006-11-11. 
  12. ^ Veiga, Alex (2006-11-13). " Video Prompts Probe of LAPD". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved 2006-11-13. 
  13. ^ (October 20, 2009). "Nearly 70 arrested during Arpaio’s West Valley crime sweeps". Archived from the original on October 21, 2009. Retrieved October 30, 2009. 
  14. ^ (November 10, 2006). "YouTube video triggers FBI probe of L.A. arrest". Retrieved October 7, 2011. 
  15. ^ Tim Dees. "Cop Watch". Archived from the original on 2008-06-14.  Retrieved through web archive October 30, 2009.

Further reading

  • Daniel J. Chacón, "When cops allegedly step out of line, group steps up pressure", Rocky Mountain News, November 18, 2005, Sec. News, Pg. 31A.
  • Russ Schanlaub, "Anti-Police Internet Sites", Law and Order, December 2005. Online version
  • Matt Leedy, "Dozens learn to tape police - Copwatch leader gives Fresnans tips on safely monitoring officers.", Fresno Bee, Aug. 28, 2005, Sec. News, Pg. B1.
  • "Houston PD wants Copwatch on its side", Law Enforcement News, October 31, 2002, Vol. XXVIII, No. 586. Online abstract
  • "Arizona vigilantes look for police abuse", Crime Control Digest, Washington: Jan 5, 2001, Vol. 35, Iss. 1; pg. 4.


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