Copwatch should always be done in groups, as you are much less likely to encounter trouble. decide on your roles before you begin – you could all act as bystanders, or one person could be a ‘point person’ tog get closer and try to obtain more details (cops’ names, car number, etc.). if you have enough people, one person could pretend to be totally unrelated to your group.
When you copwatch, try to get as much information, including:
- the day, time, and exact location of the incident
- the officer’s name, badge number, and physical description and station number
- where anyone arrested will be taken
- witnesses’ names, addresses, and telephone numbers
- vehicle or license numbers for any police vehicles involved in the incident
- any other evidence including videos, tapes, photographs, and complete descriptions of police actions and any resulting injuries (if there were injuries, include whether or not medical attention was offered by the police).
- record everything you can. if you feel that it is warranted, you can call 911. try tohold off on telling them that it’s the police until the very end, but be factual. all 911 calls are recorded and relatively hard to ‘lose,’ and this can come a legally useful report.
- you can also call a friend’s voicemail and describe what is happening as it happens
Know your rights while copwatching !
- be legal: ensure that you follow the letter of the law both at the scene of the incident and after you leave. this includes obvious things like not having any drugs, alcohol, or illegal weapons on your person or in your system. being legal also includes things like ensuring you don’t jaywalk as you leave the scene. if you’re driving away, ensure that you and all of your passengers are wearing seatbelts, and that you are not playing unnecessarily loud music. don’t give cops the excuse to bust you
- remember that you are there to defuse the situation not to escalate it. don’t encourage the police to arrest people as a way of getting back at you because of your attitude. be polite but firm. walk, don’t run, and avoid sudden movements around them
- carry information including rights cards, flyers, and legal information that you can give to people subject to harassment. you could even try carrying around a police complaint form to distribute to any other bystanders that witness the event.
- trying to speak to an arrestee directly will usually get you in trouble. try loudly talking to your companions about what rights people have (ie. right to remain silent, right to a lawyer, etc.)
- be prepared to stay until the stop is concluded
- have educational conversations. speak to onlookers about rights, police brutality, what citizens can do, and community alternatives. if faced with a legal question, its’ always better to say ‘I don’t know’ than to give out mistaken information’
- be careful leaving the area. cops can follow, ticket or otherwise target copwatchers a few blocks from where the copwatch took place. don’t relax your guard.
- try to give the arrestee a way to contact you or vice versa. this is not to say that you should give your name or get their name in front of the police. give your name only if you are comfortable with the police getting it
- collect other witness statements if possible
- be prepared to follow through. if you couldn’t get an arrestee’s name and you feel that the situation was severe, or that their mistreatment will continue, then go to the station they were taken to. loudly and firmly ask the details of their charges, explain what you saw, and ask to make a complaint against the officers. this will put them on notice that people are concerned and will follow through and it may stop a back-room beating.
- if you are comfortable doing an ‘aggressive’ copwatch then you can introduce yourself when approaching the scene and explain that you are doing a copwatch. you can ask the cops why they are detaining/arresting people, or try to directly inform the arrestee of his/her rights. This can get you arrested.
- know the laws: if you can quote laws of refer to them knowledgeably, you are probably one up on the cops and can get them to ‘back off’ a detainee they are treating badly
- remember that in a really bad situation the cops may smash or steal (“confiscate”) your equipment to keep you from having evidence against them. if the situation looks like trouble, have one of your group walk away with what evidence is gathered.
- be prepared to be arrested. having some ID and a little cash on you can help you get out faster
Copwatching should always be done in groups; however, there may be times when you are witness to an extreme incident that you will end up copwatching alone. remember that in the absence of other witnesses, you – and your potential evidence – are at a high risk. don’t give the cops any reason to mistreat you. stay perfectly legal, stay far back from the incident, and don’t try to engage the cops. if the situation involves violence, call 911.
- assault police: the offence of assault includes not only touching someone without their consent, but also attempting or threatening by acts or gestures to apply force to another person. assault police is a special charge that applies to an assault on a peace officer in the execution of his/her duty. avoid by: ensuring that all communication with the police is as calm and polite as possible. if things get heated, try reciting rights as a tool to keep you calm.
- obstruct police: wilful interference with (or obstruction of) a peace officer in the execution of his/her duty. this can include preventing an arrest, lying to police, and refusing to move after a police officer asks you to do so. avoid by: stay back from the police. if they ask you to back up further, do it (but try walking backwards with your camera still on while you obey!).
- unlawful assembly: you can commit this offence by getting together with 2 other people ‘(at least) with intent to carry out some common purpose, and you assemble in a manner that causes those nearby to fear that (a) you will ‘disturb the peace tumultuously’ or (b) you will needslsly and without reasonable cause provoke others to ‘disturb the peace tumultuously”. avoid by: again, staying calm. a cool head is your best weapon.
what behaviour is abusive behaviour
all police officers in quebec (surete, municipal police, etc.) are subject to the Police Code of Thics. This Code demands that a police officer behave in a way that preserves the confidence and respect required by his position. a police officer must not:
- use obscene, blasphemous, or insulting language
- act or make statements based on race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, religion, political convictions, language, age, social condition, disability, etc.
- treat a person impolitely or without respect
- forget or refuse to identify him/herself with an official document when a person asks her to forget to wear a prescribed identification mark (badge, insignia, uniform, etc.) in his/her direct relations with members of the public
- abuse her authority in her relations with the public (threats, harassment, use of unnecessary force, etc.)
- disobey the law (for example, illegal arrest or detention)
to avoid all forms of abuse of authority, the Code of Ethics forbids police officers from doing the following things:
- using more force than is necessary
- making threats, intimidating or harassing people
- intentionally accusing another person without justification
- abusing his authority in order to obtain a statement or admission
- detaining a person who is not under arrest for purposes of interrogation
this does not mean that police officers will not act in these ways. it just means that if you witness this kind of police behaviour, you are justified in making a complaint
- directly at police station or comité de déontologie policière
- must be in writing
- person has to submit it no later than one year after either the event itself, or after the person learned of the event upon which the complaint is based
- if the person complaining asks them, the members of the staff of the office of the Comité must help the person write the complaint and evenhelp him to identify the evidence needed to back it up
- any person can complain to the office of the Comité de déontologie policière
- be submitted within the one-year time limit
- concern a police officer in the exercise of his duties
- allege a violation of the Code of Ethics of Québec police officers
for a complaint to be dealt with it must: