As a founding member of Copwatch, I feel that I must respond to the misperceptions, misinformation and false notions that appeared in an opinion piece entitled “South Berkeley resident speaks out on Cop Watch,” (January 29, 2002).
The author of this letter seems to have given Copwatch quite a bit of consideration, but has not actually spoken with our members or read our literature. She seems to be operating in the belief that Copwatch is simply against the police on principle.
Within the movement for police accountability, citizens who advocate for independent, civilian oversight of police have often been characterized as being “anti-police.” This simplistic representation of our analysis of police misconduct does a disservice to Copwatch and to the police.
Within many professional law enforcement organizations nationally, there is support for civilian oversight of police. In fact, many police officers have come to believe that community involvement in oversight is essential, especially when we consider how difficult it is for officers who witness misconduct to “blow the whistle” on their fellow officers.
I agree with the author of the letter when she says that Berkeley is “NOT Los Angeles, not even Oakland”. The citizens of Berkeley have historically taken a great interest in the functioning of its police department. Berkeley citizens voted to establish one of the first Police Review Commissions in the country in 1973, and since that time, there has been a long line of citizens who have invested countless hours into making sure that brutality and misconduct did not become common practice as it has in some other communities.
For the last twelve years, Copwatch volunteers have dedicated themselves to the task of monitoring police conduct and reporting their findings back to the community. This kind of community oversight helps to explain why Berkeley cops are held to a higher standard of conduct.
Copwatch is made up of volunteers. We are teachers, students, office and construction workers, doctors, artists and others.
We train members of the public in non-violence techniques, observation methods and relevant aspects of the law.
We train our members to deescalate situations where possible, not to interfere and to practice non-violence at all times (no verbal put downs, don’t run, keep your hands visible, etc). All of this information is in our training handbook, which we provide to the public at no expense (although we gratefully accept donations).
I must confess that I was shocked to read the paragraph in which the author claims that some officer on the BPD had taken two of the “main leaders” of Copwatch to the hospital to be treated for heroin overdose. This claim is not only untrue, but I fear that it is an effort to “kill the messenger” for carrying the unpleasant information that yes, police misconduct persists in Berkeley to this day.
We at Copwatch have brought incidents of misconduct to the attention of the Police Review Commission and had allegations sustained. We have challenged and ultimately changed policies that we perceived to be unjust or ill considered. We have conducted countless “Know Your Rights” workshops in an effort to educate the public and to defend our basic civil rights. We have provided support and referrals to victims of misconduct. We are currently investigating claims that the Berkeley Drug Task Force has been using excessive force as a means of carrying out drug suppression efforts.
I am glad that the author has had positive experiences with members of the Berkeley Police Department. However, that is not the experience of all Berkeley residents. Copwatch receives many complaints of misconduct each week especially from people who live in south and west Berkeley.
Defending the provisions of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution is not “anti-cop”? It is a disservice to the community to make libelous insinuations about the leadership of Copwatch.
As a school teacher, a twenty year resident of Berkeley, and someone who cherishes the Bill of Rights, I will continue to observe police, speak out against injustice and work for a better Berkeley. I hope that one day I will be able to meet the anonymous author of the letter. She (and the public) are invited to attend our “Know Your Rights” training on Feb. 6 at 7pm at our office so that she can better understand our purpose and realize that Copwatch is not the enemy.