What is Phoenix Copwatch?
Phoenix Copwatch is a citizen’s group formed in 1998 to combat abuse by the police in our community. We use a variety of means to fight police abuse, including community patrols, videotaping of police activity, and education. Copwatch is completely independent from the police, all other law enforcement agencies, the government, and all political parties. Although Copwatch groups exist in many other cities around the world, they all operate independently, and there is no national or international body that oversees our organization. All of our members are unpaid volunteers who freely dedicate their time to ending police abuse.
Copwatch members go out regularly and videotape the police as they stop people or pull over their vehicles. We do not interfere with the police, but we do record their activities with the goal of preventing police brutality and racism. We don’t provoke confrontations with police, but we do support the principles of self-defense against police attacks. We encourage everyone to watch the police and record what they see.
We also watch the cops at protests and other gatherings, such as the massive immigrant rights marches of 2006 and the annual MLK Day celebration in Phoenix. Recently, we’ve organized community members to monitor the activities of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as he carries out racially-motivated traffic sweeps in largely minority-populated areas.
Copwatch regularly presents “Know Your Rights” forums in the community, in which people can learn how to handle encounters with the police. Knowing your rights is a good way to recognize police abuse when it occurs, and perhaps prevent it before it happens. See our resources section for educational materials about your rights, and our media page to watch videos from a past Know Your Rights forum. Also check our Events page to see if a Know Your Rights forum is coming up soon.
Copwatch also organizes protests to highlight police abuses in the Phoenix area. You can see videos from a 2006 protest against Sheriff Arpaio on our media page.
What does Phoenix Copwatch want?
Phoenix Copwatch wants an end to all police brutality in the Phoenix area. We want to help accomplish that by observing and recording police activity on the streets. Additionally, we support the creation of strong civilian review boards run by citizens (not cops), vested with full investigative and punitive powers. We also demand an end to shoot-to-kill policies among the Valley police departments, in which officers are ordered to shoot to kill a person rather than wound or disable them.
Ultimately, we want to make it so that everyone is Copwatch, because we all have the right to watch the police.
How can I support Phoenix Copwatch?
The best way to support us is by joining! You must attend a training session to become a full Copwatch member. Check the Events page to see if there is a training scheduled. If not, contact us and we’ll set one up!
If you are not able to patrol with Copwatch, there are lots of other ways to support us. We need plenty of behind-the-scenes help with web design, outreach, tabling at events, and other things. Just contact us and we’ll find ways for you to help.
We can also use donations of equipment and money. Visit our donate page for more information.
Is police brutality really a serious problem in Phoenix?
Yes, it is a serious problem. In fact, a report in ColorLines magazine in late 2007 found that Phoenix had the highest rate of fatal police shootings among the 10 largest cities in the US. Phoenix also had the largest share of Hispanics shot by police, making it an especially dangerous place for brown-skinned residents.
But many cases of police brutality-those that don’t involve death or shooting-never make it into the news. Without someone around to record the abuse, the public will never know what happened.
Additionally, physical harm is not the only type of abuse suffered by civilians at the hands of police. People in our communities are regularly subjected to racial profiling, disrespect, and humiliation by officers who abuse their authority. In fact, a report by the ACLU of Arizona found that Arizona’s DPS (highway patrol) officers have a serious problem with racial profiling, which has continued even after the department became aware of the issue.
The recent addition of Tasers to local officers’ collection of weapons has also been of particular concern because these weapons can easily be abused and have caused hundreds of deaths in the US, mostly of unarmed civilians.
If you feel that you’ve been mistreated by a police officer, please contact us. Although we cannot provide legal advice, we may be able to help you find a lawyer and show you how to fill out a complaint against the officer.
Principles of Phoenix Copwatch
The struggle against police brutality is a struggle against racism. We believe that police brutality is widespread in our communities and that much of it is directly related to the long history of white supremacy in this country. Therefore, we consider the struggle against police brutality to also be a struggle against racism.
Copwatch opposes all forms of oppression. Copwatch is opposed to all forms of oppression even though we are organized to focus on the fight against police abuse. We believe the police mistreat people based on real or perceived ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.
The goal of Copwatch is to observe and record the police when they interrogate people on the streets, and to offer assistance to victims of police abuse when we can.
Copwatch does not provoke confrontations with the police. We do support the principle of self-defense against police attacks.
Copwatch is an independent organization. We don’t work with any law enforcement agencies, government agencies, or political parties.