Sacramento Copwatch

Policing the Police

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Resources for Sacramento Copwatch

(click on link once below, then one more time on following page to access)

Copwatch Anti-oppression/Anti-racism training guide (audience copy)

Copwatch Handbook

Copwatch Know Your Rights Training Guide

Homeless Rights Document (local Berkeley codes and State codes)

Monitoring Methodology

Know Your Rights Pocket Guide (word doc)

Know Your Rights Pocket Guide (.pdf)

Film by Jacob Crawford: These Streets Are Watching

Sacramento Copwatch promo video

I wrote this as an outline for a recent Know Your Rights training that I did. Feel free to use any of it that you want for Copwatch-related purposes. I will also add this to the “resources” section of the blog as a Word document.

Copwatch Know Your Rights Training

Introduce yourself

Why are you here?

Any experiences with the cops? Stories?

-Introduce Copwatch (philosophies, goals, intentions)


-monitors and observes police conduct on the streets to keep the streets safe

-promotes police accountability

-educates the public on their legal and constitutional rights by distributing literature and talking to community members

-supports victims of police brutality and rights abuse

-empowers communities through rights education

-promotes self-sufficiency/not requiring police intervention

-encourages people to assert their rights as citizens

-promotes non-violence as a way of keeping our streets as safe as possible (Copwatching can actually increase an already-tense or potentially violent situation if not done correctly, if done with anger and resentment for the police. Essentially, we want to de-escalate tense situations so as to not cause more violence or the potential for more violence).

Our unofficial motto is: “We’re not here to interfere. We’re just here to observe.” (Copwatching techniques and ways to de-escalate tense situations will be explained when we talk about how to do a Copwatch.).

Some goals of Copwatch:

Reduce Police Violence Through Accountability

A) Directly observe police on the street

  1. watch and document police on streets
  2. maintain principles of non-violence while asserting the rights of the detained person
  3. be a witness for detained person
  4. demonstrate citizen monitoring for those also observing a situation
  5. educate the public about police conduct

B) Follow up with public pressure in legal proceedings

  1. support victims
  2. encourage victims to file complaints or sue the police or city
  3. lobby against legislation that gives police more power over civilians

Copwatching is protected under:

The 1st amendment of the constitution of the United States of America- the freedom of assembly and the freedom of press.

Our 4th amendment right also protects us from illegal search and seizures, such as being stopped by a cop and having him or her begin searching your bag without justification.

The 5th amendment is essentially the right to remain silent when a cop begins to question you, to not incriminate yourself before seeing a lawyer or standing before a jury.

3 bodies of law:

  • Federal (rights constitutionally protected): Our rights come from federal law, the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. But on the streets, we don’t come in contact with federal law much.
  • State (state laws): penal code made by state legislature.
  • Local (city/municipal codes): These are often times the most important laws to know. It is crucial to question the police on these laws because they are often times very obscure and even the police don’t know them. If they don’t know them, then they will have a hard time arresting you on them if you put enough pressure on them. (laws like not riding your bike on the sidewalk, not sleeping in a park after sunset, open container laws, etc.)

3 types of offenses:

  • Felony: punishable by more than a year in jail. (Arrested, searched, charged.)
  • Misdemeanor: punishable by up to a year in jail. Sometimes arrested, sometimes simply cited- police discretion.
  • Infraction: any violation punishable by a ticket. For these you usually don’t have to do jail time. You are expected to provide your name and residence for the police if you are being cited (Copwatch advice: tell them your name and address and produce ID if you have it, but don’t lie and say you don’t have ID when you do; lying to the police is illegal). If you can’t produce ID, it is up to the officer whether he or she wants to take you into custody to be fingerprinted to verify your identity. But don’t fall for officer negotiations like, “if you let me search your bag, I won’t take you in.” The police are allowed to lie, meaning they can search your bag AND take you in. They do not have to stick to their word.

3 types of encounters:

  • Voluntary or consensual: This is when a cop stops you on the street and starts casually talking to you. The cop can ask you where you are coming from, what you are doing in the neighborhood, etc. You do not have to answer these questions, unless you are being detained. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the cop, you can ask “am I free to go?” If the answer is yes, just walk away. If the answer is no, then that means you are being detained. The cop does not have to tell you why you are being detained. However, the cop should only detain you if there is reasonable suspicion or cause to do so, such as being linked to a crime or a crime about to happen; there needs to be actual, physical evidence of this to be detained. It can’t be because the officer has a hunch. This is very important. If you press the cop about this, then he or she might back away from detaining you, which is why it is important to know your rights. The cop can also ask to see your ID. If you are not being detained, then you do not have to show it. If you are being detained, it’s probably a good idea to show the cop your ID. If you don’t, he or she can take you to the police station and get you fingerprinted. It’s not illegal, however, to not have an ID. You are not required to have an ID.
  • Detention: Once you are being detained, you do not have the right to leave. You are essentially under the custody of the officer. The officer can conduct a pat search on you, meaning he or she can touch your body and your pockets just to make sure you don’t have any sharp objects or weapons on you. However, they cannot search your pockets or bags or car unless you consent to a search. They will ask you, but you have the right to say NO. They can also lie to you and say that they need to search your car just to make sure that there isn’t a gun in it or something, but this is a lie, and they are legally allowed to lie. This is why it’s important to know your rights so that you can call them on it. During a detention, you do not have to answer any questions other than to give your name or address. You always have the right to remain silent and to not incriminate yourself. If you don’t want to answer questions, simply and politely say, “I wish to remain silent.” If you fumble an answer, you can wind up giving the police a reason to search your car and then that could lead to more trouble, or you can give them evidence that they can use in court against you. The police are also not supposed to move you from the location of your detention while you are being detained. If you are put into a car and taken off, you are under arrest. If you are handcuffed and in the back of a car, you’re not necessarily arrested; this is just another way of more securely detaining you.
  • Arrest: if you are being arrested, that means you are in police custody and they can search your pockets, your bags or any of your possessions. The cops do have to tell you why are you being arrested and under what charge. You still have the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer. You will be handcuffed, read your rights and taken to jail to be processed through the system. Again, a cop DOES NOT have to tell you why you are being detained, but a cop DOES have to tell you why you are being arrested and on what charge.

Types of police searches:

  • Detention: cops can only pat you down and check for sharp weapons, which is them trying to protect themselves. If they find something sharp or dangerous, they can pull it out. If it’s illegal, you can go to jail for it. They can also go into your pockets and possessions under a few circumstances while you are being detained:
  • If you are being arrested
  • If there is a search clause as part of your probation or parole
  • If you agree to a search, which you DO NOT have to do
  • Arrest: cops can search everything of yours if you are arrested (charged, read your rights, handcuffed, escorted to a jail, etc.)

When police can enter your private property:

  • crime in progress
  • hot pursuit of criminal
  • search warrant (make sure to ask to see the search warrant and examine it carefully for accuracy.

Parole is serving the remainder of a sentence outside of prison, where probation is given instead of a prison sentence and tends to place more rigid obligations upon the individual.

Loss of rights:

If on parole or probation, depending on the conditions of the case, you will likely lose your rights to refuse a search of your car, person or house, since there will be a search clause in your case allowing the police to search you and your stuff at any time. So, this means you lose fourth amendment protection (illegal search and seizure). If on parole/probation, you can be stopped at any time and you will have to show ID.

Copwatching Tips:

Try to get the police officer’s name and badge number every time if you can. They don’t have to tell you their name or badge number, but they do need to be identifiable. Try to get victim’s name so that you can support him or her and help that person to get out of jail. Make sure to file complaints and follow through on paperwork if there is a serious incident and encourage the victim to do so as well. If you file a complaint against an officer, it may not get him or her fired, but it will go on their record, and if enough do, that could lead to termination. Your story matters.

Tell the person being arrested that they have the right to remain silent and they have the right to know why they are being arrested. If you want to track a victim, go by officer badge number or name. Go to jail and tell them the badge number and name. Also, call the public defender’s office with this information to ensure that the public defender has the best information available to him or her in order to bring about justice.

While Copwatching, cops will tell you to leave the scene, or that they’ll arrest you for obstructing the sidewalk. Assert your constitutional rights to observe the public space, but also accommodate some of their preferences. Don’t fall for their tricks to intimidate you so that you leave them alone.

Two Role Playing Games after Know Your Rights Training (Diffusing a situation)

1) Two people on bench, two officers interrogate them. Have two people pretend like they are cops with each officer interrogating each citizen on the bench. Then have another person doing a Copwatch. The two on the bench should utilize the tools they were taught in the Know Your Rights training, for example, asking “Am I being detained? Am I free to go?” after being asked a series of questions like “Where are you from? What are you doing here? What’s your name?” The cops should be trying to get information from the citizens that they aren’t required to give. And the Copwatcher should also be utilizing what was learned, i.e., not standing behind the officer, asking for badge numbers/officer names, trying to de-escalate the situation by compromising with hostile police, etc.

2) Stand face-to-face in two rows. One person is the Copwatcher, one is the police officer trying to block the Copwatcher from watching a police scene. The Copwatcher should work on asserting his or her rights when threatened with arrest by the cops for interfering or obstructing, as well as trying to observe what’s going on but also de-escalating a situating by being willing to “take a step back.” Cops should pretend to be aggressive, hostile, threatening with arrests, trying to get in the Copwatcher’s way of observing, etc. Questions: what did Copwatchers do to make you, the pretend police officer, feel angry? Relaxed? What did the police do to make you, the Copwatcher, feel frustrated and distracted from what you were supposed to be doing? Work on these issues together and talk about the various factors that make the process difficult but manageable if practiced.


One Response to “Resources”

  1. Regina Gutierrez said

    I am a journalist, and I have video taped the police during some uneventful accidents and activities…

    I believe the police have misclassified me as being part of an individual copwatch, suspect, hahahah… The police have labeled me as some kind of high profile criminal suspect.

    This of course is no laughing matter…

    However, as a student trying to earn a degree in photography, and cinematography, any thing of photography value will always attract my attention as a journalist…

    Due to the fact that Sacramento is pretty boring during the week or weekends I go out shooting pictures and film through-out Northern California in hopes of capturing film or photos that I can up load on to YouTube…

    Yes, I have video taped the police arresting individuals and have up loaded these videos on to YouTube. I have also captured individuals pulling crazy stunts…

    However, now I understand why the Sacramento and Rancho Cordova Police Department has been following me around….

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