A Watchful Eye on Watchdogs

By Kiana Jardin

For decades, tensions between police and citizens have escalated as the overall trust in police has plummeted. (Berkeley Police Department Brutality for “Jaywalking”) Pinpointing the beginning of police mistrust and misconduct is difficult. It is challenging to monitor police activity, particularly in the streets. Groups like Berkeley Copwatch and Chairman of the Oakland City Council, Noel Gallo, believe there should be a legal eye watching officers to make sure they are obeying the law, allowing for an objective perspective when there is a complaint about misconduct. Their purpose is to begin monitoring police activity and help to keep the communities safe from misconduct. This includes following officers around while they are on duty and using video cameras to document activity. This, Copwatch stresses, is completely legal and is a right citizens can demonstrate to benefit their community.

The idea and belief behind monitoring activity is that if there is a visual documentation of misconduct; police officers cannot deny the fact that they have abused their power. Police cases of brutality have had difficulty in the courtroom because there was either no visual footage, other than a witnesses who cannot be trusted, as all human memories are inherently biased, or because the footage was analyzed unjustly. In the case of the Eric Garner, a man from New York who was put in a chokehold to death, and even though there was visual evidence, the police officer was not indicted, this would discourage people from documenting activity. However, this is the reason why organizations want to get more footage. There is a motivation to bring justice to cases by pointing out more of cases where there were misconduct so police cannot deny the many events that have occurred. If a citizen is at the scene and can testify by footage what they saw and be a true witness, there is hope that there will be justice. As a whole, most citizens do not trust police officers to handle situations without being violent or aggravating the situation. (Evidence below in UC Berkeley Protest video.) Therefore, citizens of the Bay Area interested in police reform and justice believe there should be a way of monitoring police activity to keep police aware that people are watching and to regulate what is happening in our system.

Police watching organizations in the Bay Area have documented cases of police misconduct and have investigated cases through monitoring and documenting video evidence. For example, Berkeley Copwatch, an organization monitoring police activity, heard about a case and began to investigate. The woman’s name was Kayla Moore and she was killed by police misconduct. Moore was a transgender woman who suffered from a mental disability. The police were called because a friend (Hayes) believed she was having a “mental episode” as it was described in the report. Before the police arrived there was an argument between Moores girlfriend(Angel). Her caretaker,(Edward George Sterling), was called to the scene.

Once the police arrive, they do a background check and find out that Kayla Moore was formerly known as “Xavier Moore”, and had more information of incidents on her record. Copwatch writes from evidence, “Moore was in her own home. Moore’s caregiver was present. It is not clear why Moore’s caregiver was ordered to leave the room once police entered the residence.” Police talked to Moore and aggravated the situation. Once she began to resist, they went “hands on”, and began to restrain her with handcuffs and then strapped in a *WRAP device. It was reported that she began to calm down, however police did not check her face coloring and they began to notice that she was not breathing. Copwatch adds the policy, “According to the 2008 Berkeley Police Department’s WRAP policy, if a subject exhibits sudden quiet or inactivity, it is a sign that immediate medical attention may be required.” Sources claim, “No officers present claim to have attempted to assist or restore her breathing.” The paramedics were called and Moore died within hours of the event.

*WRAP device- “the WRAP is a temporary restraint device that immobilizes a body by forcing the restrained individual into a seated position with their legs out straight and perpendicular to the body.”

According to Copwatch, the Berkeley Police Department faced “…dramatic cuts in mental health services and an expanding policing budget have created a context where it is primarily Berkeley Police who respond mental health crises even though police training emphasizes priorities different from mental health care concerns…officers are not adequately trained to provide mental health care or address mental health issues.” Consequently, police not knowing how to manage situations is problematic. Copwatch reported the police violations during the event:

 

 

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This report was fully done by Copwatch, revealing information of the exact incidents of police activity and violations of policy from officers with the hope of finding justice for Kayla Moore. Copwatch believes documenting officers will stop events like this from happening. The goal is that officers will try harder to be professional. Copwatch is an organization started in 1990 , based on the ideology of being an eye for the people and protecting them against misconduct.

Screen shot 2015-01-20 at 1.12.06 PM  In my interview with Andrea Prichett, founder of Copwatch she told us,“In March of 1990, myself and other UC Berkeley graduates, students, some homeless people, and others, we got together because, we felt like we needed to bear witness to what was happening because there was a lot of homeless people up on the avenue “Telegraph”. Telegraph was being gentrified and people of color and homeless people were harassed by cops in Berkeley. Andrea Prichett began documenting police activity and misconduct along with other people in community. Jacob Crawford, a co-founder of We Copwatch, an organization inspired from Berkeley Copwatch that covers cases of misconduct in the Midwest, has taped various accounts of police activity as well. The organization Berkeley Copwatch has continued for 25 years, following police, videotaping, and monitoring. Their reactions vary from being “antagonistic towards it, and becoming aggressive,” while some cops “recognize that this is a perfectly legal thing to do and they don’t mind it.” Pritchett says main goals are to “hold police accountable for what they do and we also want to empower the community to deal with situations without police.” They are looking to work with UC Berkeley to have a database to keep footage to be able to recognize which officers are violating policies.

Because the data is difficult to keep in a database, Fatal Encounters, an organization that claims to be, “A step toward creating an impartial, comprehensive and searchable national database of people killed during interactions with law enforcement.”, which enables information to be displayed about police misconduct on a database.

The Oakland City Council is also looking at monitoring police as a form of police reform. Noel Gallo-Chairman of Public Safety Committee, on the Oakland City Council is requesting reform through police monitoring.

Gallo wanted to make a commission that would help increase police oversight in Oakland and help reduce misconduct among officers.This is encouraged by police accountability groups. It would entail twelve citizens to examine complaints about police misconduct, and give them the power to recommend the hiring/firing of police chiefs, and help to monitor police activity as a whole. The commission was established in response to OPD’s record of police misconduct. Gallo claims, “What we currently have has not worked and is not working, and that’s why we have had a federal judge for 11 years who is about to leave, and that is why we need this initiative..”He is asking for reform by monitoring and gaining trust in accountability of police in Oakland. He feels OPD is problematic, people are unhappy, and he wants to change this.

He is also working with the group PUEBLO that has been working on a restorative justice program since 1994. The organization helps the community by focusing on people with low income and people of color. They help by developing better relationship with OPD especially because kids of color/low income deal with this abuse and are victims. The program assists people with filing complaints in a database and address police reform through monitoring police activity.

 Sources like Andrea Prichett and Jacob Crawford agree, there is simply not enough trust in the police to grant them with the power to monitor themselves using body cameras. Jacob Crawford of We Copwatch does not trust that body cameras would truthfully explain the entire story. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Crawford said, “Body cameras are way too close to be able to show the whole story,” he said. “This body camera doesn’t tell the whole story. They’ll say somebody was doing something outside of the camera or before they turn the camera on.” To Crawford, the cameras give police too much leeway in changing the story to benefit them.

The intention is understandable, however because of the lack of trust in police, it seems they would be more harm than good. Similarly, Andrea Prichett of Berkeley Copwatch agrees. In our interview she voiced, “I don’t trust them to deal with the footage. I don’t trust them to turn off their camera when they wanna step outside of the law, and I don’t trust that they’re not just gonna use those body cameras as a way of increasing surveillance on the general public.” Until the trust is regained between police and civilian, the only solution that seems to help the situation is to have unbiased people monitoring cases.

 A societal conversation about police reform is essential now more than ever. As recent events have shown, many people believe police are acting against the community instead to protect them. They are more afraid of the police with no trust in the safety and accountability of the system. Events like the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, where a African-American teenager was shot and left in the street for 4 hours. In response to the shooting, there were a series of protests in the Bay Area. A UC student march in Berkeley, CA, resulted in various cases of police brutality and use of weapons such as smoke bombs and rubber bullets, (video displayed below.) This case, and many others like it demonstrate the need to create a better relationship with safety and protection officers. Police monitoring allows citizens to get involved in the police reform movement and to prevent unnecessary misconduct.

 

 

 

 

 

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