Copwatch Training Manual

United Against Police Terror – CopWatch Training Manual

For people interested in starting a Cop Watch in their neighborhood or in their city, we’re providing a couple of training manuals from different cities to help you. We understand that different neighborhoods, cities and regions have different conditions so you might not be able to apply these things to your specific area, so just use these as ideas so you can create something that is effective to you……Keep on Fighting Police Terrorism.


This handbook is intended to introduce people to the main concepts of police observation. It is far from complete and we certainly learn more every day. It is true that in different parts of the country and in different situations, the people will devise COPWATCHing methods which better suit their own situation. Please use the information in this handbook as a way of stimulating discussion in your organization and providing a basis for forming your own police monitoring project. It can be quite challenging and at times rewarding. Good luck. Hope this helps.

We are a group of community residents and students who have become outraged by the escalation of police misconduct, harassment and brutality in recent years. We have joined together to fight for our rights and the rights of our community by taking on the task of directly monitoring police conduct. That’s right. We walk the streets and watch the police. Although it is important to resist police brutality by taking cops to court, filing complaints and having demonstrations, we believe that it is crucial to be in the streets letting the police know that THE PEOPLE will hold them accountable for their behavior in the community. We have no single political or religious belief. Our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds. What we share is the belief that citizen participation in these issues and monitoring of the police is a crucial first step towards building a movement capable of stopping police violence and of challenging the increasingly powerful role of police in our society.

If you have been a victim of police abuse, witness abuse or are just plain fed up with police misconduct and want to do something about it, give us a call. We will train you to COPWATCH. We also need artists, writers, researchers, outreach workers, organizers and others to help. We are an all volunteer group so your help is ALWAYS needed!

Copwatch Mission

Copwatch is a non-violent, non-confrontational citizen advocacy organization. We strive to help end police misconduct, brutality, and abuse of power through direct observation of the police in the streets, and advocating for their victims after the event.

We take it upon ourselves to police the police. While we know it is impossible to be at the scene of every situation with the police, we intend to be in the streets at times when police misconduct is most probable. We will document on paper and on film as much of the police activity as we can.

We will build a reputation as advocates for the victims of police misconduct within the community.

We will be advocates for people who feel the police have mistreated them. We will make all our documents available to such people, and their lawyers on request. We will archive all documentation so that if a person first chooses not to pursue a claim against the police, and later decides to, the documentation will be available. We will erase any unusable video.

We will attempt to de-escalate situations whenever possible and we will encourage people to solve problems nonviolently without the involvement of police. We want to help expand community support for victims of police crime, to educate community members about their rights, encourage others to exercise their right to observe the police, and mobilize the community to protest injustices.

Purposes and Goals

I. To Reduce Police Violence Through Accountability
1. Directly observe the police on the street
a. Watch and document incidents
b. Maintain principles of nonviolence while asserting the rights of the detained
c. Be a witness for the detained person
d. Demonstrate citizen monitoring for those observing an incident
e. Educate the public about police conduct

2. Follow up with public pressure in legal proceedings
a. Support brutality victims in defense of false charges
b. Encourage and assist people in filing complaints or even suing police
c. Lobby to stop discriminatory legislation and policies that increase police powers
over people’s civil and human rights

Uapt San Diego Copwatch is the most recent in a long line of historic, grassroots efforts to control the police including the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets and others. There are other organizations around the country who are also taking up Copwatching in cities such as Denver, Houston, Portland, New York, Tucson and many others.

The movement for community-based responses to police brutality is growing. With the 2004 release of our new training video, “These Streets Are Watching”, there has been a surge in interest in citizen monitoring of the police. To get a copy check our website

Currently, Copwatch is working with other groups in the low income areas of San Diego to coordinate a community justice forum where residents can discuss conflicts and problem solve without intervention from the local police. Our belief is that if we are to reduce police misconduct,we must reduce community calls for service from the police. We must begin to solve problems without the police whenever possible. This is an experimental strategy and if you are interested in helping or learning more, just give us a call!

II. To Empower and Unite The Community By Looking Out For Each Other
1. Educate the community about their rights
a. Distribute literature and publish findings
b. Do Know Your Rights training and any other classes, forums, demonstrations
that can help the public understand the real situation.
2. Expand community support for victims of police crime and community based efforts
to organize against brutality.
3. Encourage people to solve problems WITHOUT police intervention. Explore
alternatives to calling the police.
4. Encourage people to exercise their right to observe the police and to advocate for
one another.

Principles and Guidelines

Copwatch cannot guarantee the safety of participants and members
Be aware that this type of community activism involves risks. We try to protect each other by setting up a support and advocacy structure that can react quickly if problems should arise or if arrests occur. Anyone wanting to be a member of Copwatch is required to go to several training sessions before they can be members. We ask that participants and members act according to tenets of training and, in all situations, avoid actions that endanger the safety of others. Generally actions that might endanger the safety of others include: physical violence or threat of violence directed against others, including the police, witnesses, members, etc.; giving false information to law enforcement and legal authorities; actions that cause panic such as running, throwing items, etc.;

Copwatching as Oversight
It is not our role or responsibility to judge people’s guilt or innocence, and we should be clear with people that we are not on the streets to “defend criminals,” but to ensure that the police respect the democratic rights of all people.

a. We do not discriminate against any person on the basis of her or his race, culture,
gender, religion, sexual orientation, age or disability.
b. Members of any political party are welcome to work in Copwatch as individuals, but
not as party representatives.
c. No employee of law enforcement agencies—public or private—may participate in
d. Those interested in Copwatch are expected to attend a training session on Copwatch
principles and a second training session on state laws before being considered a
member, and a third session, which consists of a ride along as an observer during a
Member Responsibilities
All members of Copwatch are expected to:

a. Be in general agreement with Copwatch principles, demands and program.

b. Complete the Copwatch training sessions.

c. Follow Copwatch rules and procedures.

d. Be knowledgeable of all information necessary to conduct a Copwatch patrol,
including the relevant laws, the specific tasks of each Copwatch position, etc.

e. Treat everyone you come in contact with in a friendly and polite manner.

f. Respect the viewpoints and privacy of other members of the group.

g. Contribute constructively to the group.

h. Be respectful of all members.

i. Be truthful in providing factual information to law enforcement and legal authorities.

j. Not represent personal viewpoints as viewpoints of Copwatch.

k. Not engage in personal, political or outside activities while participating in Copwatch
activities and/or patrols.

l. Wear Copwatch identifying clothing while on patrol.

e. Refrain from wearing Copwatch patrol apparel at any event at which one is
participating as a protestor.

f. Commit to at least one patrol per month or some other aspect of Copwatch work, as
well as at least one planning meeting every other month.

g. If team members have the time/energy after patrols, participate in debriefing

h. At appropriate times, engage in positive criticism/self-criticism.

i. Maintain regular contact with her or his team coordinator. If a member does not stay in
contact with her or his coordinator or go on a patrol in three months, the member must

j. Fulfill tasks in a timely manner. If one volunteers for a position, to fulfill responsibilities
in a timely manner.

Non Violence Principles
Copwatch discourages police brutality and harassment by making cops aware that they are being watched, and that law enforcement officers will be held accountable for their actions. We record incidents of harassment and abuse, follow through on complaints, educate those who don’t know their rights or who don’t believe that police harassment exists, and educate the community about their rights.

The last thing we want is for a cop to arrest someone because the cop is angry with us. We want cops to treat people with respect and to observe their rights. Cops often forget that arrestees are people and that they have rights. We want cops to treat ALL people courteously.

In order to discourage cops from hassling our brothers and sisters, we may have to be diplomatic. We must be firm in demanding that rights be respected; yet we must avoid endangering someone who is already in some trouble. We must try to learn exactly what our rights are. Sometimes asking cops to cite sections of the Penal Code, which pertain to the situation, will remind them that they are acting outside of the law. Remember that the goal is to prevent unnecessary arrests.

It is very important to remain as calm as possible while observing the police! Generally your presence will increase the level of anger and tension. This can be enough to make cops arrest someone. We must be careful not to escalate the situation. The danger is that while on the street the cops can be observed, but behind closed doors we have no way of monitoring the cops. Take strength in the fact that you are within your rights to observe the police. Remember that your body language can make cops nervous. Try to keep hands visible at all times. Don’t make sudden moves.

On the streets we are serving the people. Our effectiveness will be greatly enhanced if the community trusts us. When the streets are quiet and there is no police activity, a Copwatch member can spend time distributing Know Your Rights cards, pamphlets or just getting to know people. Explain to the people that you are with Copwatch and tell them about the program. Get into conversations. If people know that you are trying to help and that you care, that in itself will be empowering.

Depending on how familiar and/comfortable you are, you can assist people with problems that arise.

Stay security conscious. Don’t promise help you can’t give or follow up on. Be very careful of what personal information, organizational information, “gossip,” information about patrol team members, etc. you share with people in the community. Don’t talk trash about the cops with people or engage in similarly negative interactions. Do not share your personal address, phone number or email with strangers. If people want a means to contact you, give them the Copwatch address, voicemail and email (on all literature).

We want our community to solve problems without police intervention when possible. If we can bring calm to a situation instead of the police, we are doing very well. This portion is intentionally vague because it requires your judgment. Do not stick your nose where it does not belong. Do not endanger yourself. Be wise.

• Nonviolence requires humility, discipline and clarity. The believer in nonviolence has a deep faith in the future and forces on the side of justice. While acting as a member of Copwatch, you may have to face insults and intimidation from police without retaliation; to not only refuse to get into fights, but also to refuse hating a cop, during our most intense moments; to understand we fight injustice rather than against persons doing injustice.

• Treat everyone you come in contact with in a respectful, friendly and polite manner.

• Speak in a clear and audible voice. It is not necessary to raise you voice, yell or scream in any contact situation.

• Avoid the use of any terms that may be taken as derogatory or insulting.

• Maintain a legal and safe distance from any police incident or contact. This does not mean you cannot engage the police in conversation and walk or stand next to them when they are on a routine patrol.

• Avoid quick or sudden changes in your position when you are observing a police/citizen contact. Never make sudden moves toward the police or break into a run for any reason

• Do not use flash cameras or video lighting when officers are engaging in a routine stop of someone. If a stop escalates into unnecessary use of force, you have the right to record the scene using flash bulbs or video light.

• If you are a witness to someone being beaten or treated roughly, calmly ask the officer(s) involved to stop or ask, “Why are you doing this?” Warn them that you will place yourself between them and the victim if this is a form of nonviolence that you want to employ.

• Never speak for anyone else when you are talking to authorities. Make it clear that you are the one involved in any encounter with the police and that you are not working for the homeless, street people, people of color, gays/lesbians. Never use any other organization’s name except Copwatch.

• If you are tired and irritable before or during your shift, try to find someone to replace you. Copwatch is not the place to be if you are not in the mood to deal with intense or frustrating situations.

• Be helpful to the citizen being stopped/arrested without making his/her situation worse. Our goal is to lessen the incidents of harassment and violence, not to escalate them.

Copwatch Teamwork and Activities

Empowering all members
As a member of Copwatch, you are entitled to be a part of group decisions and to take a role in our work. We want all members to be able to speak in public, host forums, train, etc. Team coordinators should share responsibilities with members of the team. Team members should volunteer for different tasks. We always have something to do.

Teamwork is an essential part of Copwatch. We engage in all activities — from patrols to flyering — in groups. No patrol should happen with less than four people. It is important that you have a trusting, professional relationship with your team and all members of Copwatch. It is important that teams not be wholly composed of friends, partners, etc. outside Copwatch; familiarity can cause problems on occasion. You’re welcome to hold non-patrol activities with your team, and get to know all Copwatch members.

During the course of Copwatch work, you will encounter people who agree with what we do and those who do not agree at all. In all cases, it is important we encourage each other to be empathetic to all views. Don’t spend time debating with people while doing Copwatch work and encourage others to stay focused on what we need to do.

Copwatch Activities
1. Community outreach: These include events where we do outreach about Copwatch and police issues. Events in this area include films, benefit shows, tabling, etc.

2. Community education: Events with a specifically educational purpose, such as Know Your Rights forums, police brutality speak outs, etc.

3. Patrols: Teams (4-8 members) are generally encouraged to do one 3-4 hour patrol per month. Copwatch typically does three types of patrols:

a. Driving: We drive around in a car with 3-5 people using the scanner
and observance of our surroundings to determine stops.
b. Walking: Such patrols give us a lot of public interaction. In addition to
PR, it’s a good place to watch because there is everybody from the
homeless to youth cruising around. They all tend to get harassed for
loitering or other violations.
c. Protests: From time to time, we go out on protests to document
occurrences between protesters and police. These patrols are quite
different from regular patrols in the way they are conducted. It is
important that the people who go out on these patrols are familiar
with the equipment, are able to act as interveners,
can handle pressure and not let themselves get distracted. When patrolling a
march, you must stay with your group and not join in the protest or turn focus on
friends, etc.

Expenses you are likely to run into as a member of Copwatch:
• A patrol t-shirt will cost a few dollars (less than $10, to defray costs)

• You will occasionally be asked for a donation for meeting space or incidentals.

• Teams are encouraged, but not required, to rent a car for a night’s patrol (cost usually runs $8-12 per team member on a patrol group of four). Several Copwatches have reported having members’ cars “profiled” after use in patrols, with those members getting pulled over excessively, having windows smashed, etc. Rentals should have insurance. If a member uses her/his own car for a patrol or Copwatch event, they are welcome to do so provided it meets patrol checklist requirements, but s/he does so at one’s own risk.

• Gas money for patrol cars should be considered. A few dollars should be brought along.

• You should have a close friend of family member aware of your involvement in Copwatch. In the event of an arrest, assistance in bonding might be called on, though legal assistance should avert this.

• Friendly members may offer to purchase miscellaneous items for Copwatch, including tapes (audio or video), office supplies, copies, equipment, etc. If you have friends that can offer items at reduced rates, let the group know.

Don’t Join Copwatch if…

Please read this before you consider becoming a part of Copwatch.

Don’t join Copwatch if…
• You’re a cop. No employees of any law enforcement agency may be a part of Copwatch. Copwatch is an all-civilian group.

• You’re a hothead.
Copwatch is not a game. We are going against a well-trained, heavily-armed organization that is prone to violence and racism, and all we have to defend ourselves is a camera, a notepad, and the law. If you decide you want to take on the police by cussing them out, insulting them, or getting in their face, you put all other Copwatch members as well as the people being held by the police in danger, which means you put the entire Copwatch program in danger. If you can’t keep your cool and be disciplined, even in the face of a racist, aggressive cop, then Copwatch isn’t for you.

• You want revenge on a cop or just to scrap with them.
Copwatch does not initiate violent confrontations with the police. Observing and recording their actions is all that is necessary to fight police brutality and racism on the streets. In cases in which the police attack arrestees or members of Copwatch, we support an individual’s right of self-defense, but our job is not to start or incite any fights.

• You want to “dialogue” with the police.
Copwatch’s goal is not to work with the police. Our task is to monitor them for racism and abuse. The only way to do that is to remain completely independent from them. If you want to work with the police that’s fine, but this is not the organization to do it.

• You’re not willing to make a serious commitment to Copwatch.
This is potentially dangerous activism. If you slough off on your responsibilities, other people can get hurt. We need to be disciplined, well-trained, know the laws, and know our rights. This takes practice and a bit of study in addition to going out on regular patrols. You need to be able to commit to doing these things. That said, if you have legal, moral, or personal reasons to avoid any confrontation with the police and/or the possibility of arrest, there is still a place for you in Copwatch. We’re going to need help with legal defense, fundraising, helping file complaints, training new members, public relations, etc. If you are serious about joining Copwatch but can’t go out on patrols, we can find a place for you.

• You can’t work in a democratic organization.
Free discussion and criticism is vital for any grassroots political group. It’s also our best defense against police infiltration. All members of Copwatch have an equal voice in making all major decisions for the organization. If you have a hard time listening to the suggestions and criticisms of others, if you tend to speak out of turn or interrupt others, or if you get impatient with meetings, then Copwatch may not be for you.

The Law

It is helpful for COPWATCHers to have an understanding of a few key legal concepts before going out to watch cops. You don’t have to be a lawyer to document police activity, but if you want to be more assertive about your rights and those of the community then it is worth taking some time to become familiar with the law.

There are several sources of law. The ones that are most relevant to COPWATCH are the state laws which are found in the California Penal Code and local laws which are part of the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC).There are federal laws that you probably won’t run into much on the streets. However, it is worth knowing that everyone’s civil rights are, at least theoretically, protected under the U.S. Constitution and federal law. In fact, the right to watch is constitutionally protected activity based on our right to “freedom of assembly”. Remember, if people are allowed to walk by on the street, you are allowed to stop and watch what’s going on.

Types of Stops

It is very important that you understand why an officer is stopping someone and what their rights are when they are stopped. Determine exactly what kind of stop the officer is making.

Consensual Stop
This is when the cop approaches and begins talking to you. The cop may even ask to see your ID. You don’t have to show it. Ask the cop “Am I free to go?” or “Am I being detained?”. You don’t have to talk to the cop or even remain in the area unless the cop says “No, you can’t go” and has a reasonable suspicion to detain you. However, the cop doesn’t have to tell you why you are being detained.

The police are allowed to detain you if they have a ”reasonable suspicion” to believe that you have committed or are about to commit a crime. The officer must have some reason for stopping you. They can’t just say that you don’t look like you live in the neighborhood or that they “had a hunch”. The detention should be limited in its purpose and scope. They can conduct a pat search of the outside of your clothing in order to check for weapons, but you DO NOT HAVE TO CONSENT TO A SEARCH of your pockets or bags. You do not have to answer any questions except to identify yourself and give your address.

Types of Violations

This means that you are in police custody and you are being charged with a crime. You will be thoroughly searched as part of the booking process. You have a right to know why you are being arrested. Penal Code section 841 says that “The person making the arrest must, on the request of the person he or she is arresting, inform the latter of the offense for which he or she is being arrested”. Even though police often won’t tell you, you have the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer. Don’t give up these rights.

These are minor offenses such as jaywalking, illegal parking, open container of alcohol in public, being in certain parks after curfew, being a minor in possession of spray paint or large marking pens, etc. When an officer sees this kind of activity, s/he can ask to see ID.

If you have ID and you do not have any outstanding warrants, the cop should just write you a ticket and be done with it. If you don’t have ID on you, the cop HAS THE OPTION OF TAKING YOU TO THE STATION TO VERIFY YOUR IDENTITY OR SIMPLY WRITING

YOU A TICKET AND LETTING YOU GO. This is up to the officer. You aren’t supposed to have to go to jail for infractions in and of themselves. You would not expect to be searched during this kind of stop.

These are crimes punishable by up to a year in jail such as shoplifting, trespassing, resisting, delaying or interfering with an officer in the course of his/her duty. Expect that you will be searched, arrested and taken to jail until you are either arraigned, bailed out or released on your own recognizance. (O.R.ed) There are certain misdemeanors where the officer has the discretion to write you a citation or to take you into custody.

Remember-don’t talk to the officer about your case and do not discuss it with folks you meet in jail. Sometimes people in jail can be used to get information about your case (informants).

These are major crimes punishable by a year or more in prison. Murder, rape, robbery and many drug related crimes are considered to be felonies. Expect that you will be searched thoroughly and will be in custody at least until you are taken before a judge and allowed to enter a plea (this is arraignment).

Extra Legal Info

Answering Questions
Legally, when a person is arrested or detained by a police officer, he or she does not have to answer any questions to the officer other than to provide a name and address.You have the right to remain silent, but DO NOT lie to a cop. That is a crime.

Resisting or Obstructing an Officer
Penal Code Section 148.a states that “every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs (any police officer) in the discharge or attempt to discharge” of his or her duty, is punishable by fine or imprisonment. The police will often threaten COPWATCHers with this charge, but remember you do have the right to observe as long as you are not attempting to interfere with the officer.

Use of Force to Effect Arrest
Section 835.a of the Penal Code explains that the only “legal” use of force by an officer is that used in order to attain an arrest. “Any peace officer who has reasonable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a public offense may use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape or to overcome resistance.”

Assault by an Officer
Police brutality is defined in the Penal Code as, “Police breaches of due process guaranteed by the physical abuse of citizens without legitimate cause.” Section 149 of the Penal Code makes it illegal for a cop to assault or beat any person “without lawful necessity.”

Police Search Powers
Police may detain someone if they have “reasonable suspicion” that specific facts connect that person to a specific crime. In this case, the cops can also pat someone down to feel for a weapon, and if they feel something that feels like a weapon, they can go into that person’s clothing to look for it. Otherwise the cops can only search someone’s pockets, backpack, or belongings if that person:

• Has been arrested for a specific crime,
• Has a search clause as a condition of probation, or
• Gives the police permission, which nobody is obliged to do.

Police Seizure Powers
Police may not confiscate someone’s belongings unless they are illegal or that person has been arrested for a crime. If possessions are confiscated, the California Penal Code entitles the owner to a receipt (1535) and a return of the possessions after the resolution of the case (1537). Any evidence obtained through the seizure may be suppressed from being used in court if the seizure was illegal. (1538.5)

Gang Profiling
Sometimes cops use petty laws to stop people in order to take their pictures. These photos are often used to create files on people and to portray people as “gang members”. Detaining people to take photos merely because they are suspected gang members is impermissible. (People vs. Rodriguez (1993) 21 Cal.App.4th 232.)

The California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention (S.T.E.P.) Act California Penal Code Section 186.22 states:
“Criminal street gang” means any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one its primary activities the commission of one or more of the criminal act enumerated in paragraphs (1) to (25) inclusive of subdivision (e), having a common name or common identifying sign or symbol, and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.”

647.c There is no city ordinance in San Diego against begging, although in the California Penal Code it is illegal to “accost” people for the purpose of begging.

647.i San Diego enforces the California Penal Code provision against lodging in any building, structure, vehicle, or place without the permission of the owner and also San Diego Municipal Code 54.0110 (unauthorized encroachments)

Section 602 of the California Penal Code outlines trespassing violations. It is a violation to “refuse to leave after being asked to do so.” However, San Diego Police also enforce 52.80.01 because this makes it a crime to “ENTER property posted with a ‘No Trespassing’ sign”.The property owner may also file a “No Trespassing” letter with the police which can be good for up to 1 year.

Drinking in Public
San Diego Municipal Code makes it illegal for anyone to drink in
public (56.54,56.55, and 56.56). Being drunk or stoned in not illegal, unless that person is unable to exercise care for their own safety or the safety of
others, or that person obstructs a sidewalk or street (83.0203) Having
alcohol on your breath is NOT a crime.

Open Container
647(e) A city, county or city and county may provide that no person who has in their possession any bottle, can or other receptacle containing alcoholic beverage which has been opened or partially consumed, shall enter, be or remain on the posted premises of, including the posted parking lot immediately adjacent to a liquor store or sidewalk adjacent to the posted premises. Also San Diego Municipal Code 56.54 Alcoholic Beverage Consumption Prohibited in Certain Areas

Riding a bike on the sidewalk is illegal (SDMC 84.09). It is a misdemeanor. Cops and juveniles in residential areas are exempt from this provision.

Obstructing Sidewalk
(647c) Anyone who willfully and maliciously obstructs a street or any other public place is guilty of a misdemeanor. San Diego Municipal Code 83.0203 Pedestrians Standing on Sidewalks (In the Central Traffic District or any business district it shall be unlawful for any pedestrians to stand except as near as practicable to the building line
or the curb line.)

Minors in Possession of Tobacco
(308b) It is unlawful for any person under the age of 18 years to purchase, possess, use tobacco products, cigarette papers or any other paraphernalia related to the use of tobacco products. (fine is $75 or 30 hours of community service).


Our main tactic in COPWATCH will be to discourage police brutality and harassment by letting the cops know that their actions are being recorded and that they will be held accountable for their acts of harassment and abuse. To this end we will:

• Record incidents of abuse and harassment
• Follow through on complaints
• Publicize incidents of abuse and harassment
• Work with the Police Review Board
• Educate those who don’t believe that police harassment exists

People don’t want to be arrested. As COPWATCHers, we don’t want to escalate a situation to where police arrest someone as a way of getting back at us. We want cops to treat people with respect and to observe their rights. Often, cops forget that homeless people and others actually have rights. We may need to remind them from time to time. We must learn how to assert our rights and to encourage others to assert their rights without endangering someone who is already in some amount of trouble.

We do not attempt to interfere with officers as they make routine arrests. We document and try to inform the cops when we feel that they are violating policy or the law. Attempting to stop someone from being arrested often has serious consequences for the person being detained as well as for the reputation of COPWATCH as being a non-violence based organization.

In a physical encounter with police, we must realize that the cops have weapons, prisons, courts and judges to back them up. In addition, we do not want people to be nervous when they see COPWATCH coming to help them. We want to keep people from going to jail in the first place and not send them to jail with more serious charges.

EMPOWER THE COMMUNITY                                                                                              As people on the streets serving the public, we are not only concerned with the cops. We are concerned about the PEOPLE. Our effectiveness as COPWATCHers will be greatly enhanced if we are trusted by the community. During our shifts, we must try to get to know the people who hang out on the street. For this reason we will try to schedule people who know the area with those who are newer to the scene. Building relationship is crucial. We can listen to people and help when it is possible. This aspect of COPWATCH depends on the willingness of the members to get to know and appreciate the street community.

When the streets are quiet and there is no police activity, a COPWATCHer
can spend time distributing the “Know Your Rights” cards or just getting to know people. Introduce yourself. Explain to people that you are with COPWATCH and that you want to hear their stories. If people know that you are trying to help and that you care, that can be empowering.

Depending on how familiar and/or comfortable you are, you can assist people with problems that arise. We want our community to solve problems wherever possible WITHOUT POLICE INTERVENTION. If you can help folks resolve a conflict, communicate, understand each other you are doing great. It is crucial that we move our communities away from the idea that we are totally dependent upon police for justice and safety.

You can do a walking shift, a bicycle shift or a driving shift. Walking shifts are great for getting to know folks and having lots of community interaction. Driving shifts get you to the scene much faster. Be careful when driving to park your car away from the police. Also:

• Be sure your warrant status, bike or car is up to date. Don’t give the cops any opportunity to bust you. Assume that this could happen.

• Identification can be very helpful if the police detain you.

• Have a partner for safety as well as good COPWATCHing. It is VERY important not to confront the police alone. You must have a witness and someone who can verify YOUR story in case of a problem.

• Organize to meet your partner at a mutually agreeable time and location.

• Make sure that you are not carrying anything illegal! No knives, drugs, etc.

• Wear a COPWATCH shirt

• Be sure that you or your partner brings things you will need

Incident Forms
Complaint Forms
COPWATCH Literature to Distribute
Tape recorder, Scanner, Video Recorder, Cameras
List of Penal Codes

Shifts can last for approximately 3 hours. You and your partner can decide where you will go if there has not been a request for COPWATCHers to be in a certain neighborhood.

Please be on time for your shift as your partner is probably waiting for you. If you are unable to work your shift please call your partner and the shift coordinator so that you can get a substitute. Try to be on the street for as much of your shift as possible (don’t spend an hour in a coffee shop). Be where people can see and talk to you.

After each incident, take time to fully fill out the incident report and return it to the office. We will enter this information into the database.

As you observe a situation, one partner records what officers are saying or doing, while the other one quietly gets information from witnesses. Consult and share information. Get a firm grasp of the situation FIRST. Record as much information as possible. Witness names and numbers and badge numbers are most important. In fact, every officer must wear either a number or a nameplate when they are in uniform. (Penal Code section 830.10) It also helps to write down when, where and what time the incident happened. If there has been an injury, encourage the person to see a doctor and take pictures of the injuries as soon as possible. Distribute Copwatch literature while you are observing a stop so that people understand that you are not just there to be entertained but are actually trying to help.

Remember that you have the right to watch the cops. You don’t have the right to interfere. Interfering with a cop is a violation of penal code section 148 (delaying, obstructing or resisting arrest). If a cop wants to send you a message, they will arrest you for 148 and then, even if they don’t press charges, you still had to go through the unpleasant experience of being arrested.

When you observe police remember that you don’t want to make the cop more nervous than they already are. Keep your hands visible at all times. Don’t approach an officer from behind or stand behind them. Don’t make any sudden movements or raise your voice to the cop. Try to keep the situation calm. You don’t want to get the person in more trouble. If an officer tells you to step back, tell the officer that YOU DO NOT WANT TO INTERFERE, YOU SIMPLY WISH TO OBSERVE.

More Assertive Style:
• Ask victims if they know why they are being arrested or detained
• Get the badge number. Ask the cop if you can’t see it.
• If the stop is vague, ask the cop to name the Penal Code Section that they are
• Have educational conversations with people standing around.
• Don’t piss the cop off if you can help it. Don’t let it get personal. NO NAME CALLING!!!
• Identify yourself as ‘COPWATCH’.
• Try to stay until the stop is concluded. Remember that Rodney King was just a traffic stop originally.
• If a person wants to take action, give them complaint forms or refer them to the COPWATCH office.

• Be polite to everyone you meet including the police. Don’t insult or incite them. This is counterproductive.

• Don’t carry anything illegal or give cops an opportunity to bust you for non-COPWATCH activity.

• Of course no weapons, knives, drugs, etc. Do not COPWATCH if you have had alcohol.

• Don’t yell. Speak in a calm, audible voice. Avoid quick or sudden movements when you are around cops. Don’t run to a scene. Walk.

• Remain visible to the officer at all times. Keep your hands visible at all times, too. Do not use flash cameras or video lighting when officers are engaging in a routine stop of someone.

• If a stop escalates into unnecessary use of force use whatever tools at your disposal to record and document the situation.

• Don’t assume who is right and who is wrong. Observe and document before taking action.

• Try to be helpful to the citizen being stopped without making his/her situation worse. Our goal is to defuse the incidents of harassment and violence, not escalate them.

Be Careful:
• Don’t inadvertently collaborate in a crime (don’t become a look-out, warning if police are coming, etc.)

• Don’t let people use the COPWATCH name to shield illegal stuff.

• You may get arrested at times, but if you are doing good COPWATCHing the organization will support you.

• Talking to cops is a bad idea. It can undermine your credibility with the community as well as giving the police information about you and the group.

• Taking pictures or videotaping can be a problem if the detainee doesn’t want you to. Respect them. Tell them that you are working to stop police misconduct. If this doesn’t satisfy them, turn off the camera. Remember that you are representing COPWATCH with every act and every word. Those that come after you will have an easier time if you do your job well.

• Don’t make promises that you/we can’t keep. Don’t tell people that we will get them a lawyer, take the cops to court, etc. Tell people that we will work with them to get justice. Invite them to a meeting.

• Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if you are asked legal questions. Better that than giving out wrong information.

In Case of Arrest

If you are arrested, the police must tell you why you are being arrested. You will want to get the badge number of the officer who is arresting you and remember- you have the right to remain silent. Don’t talk about your case to anyone except your lawyer- there are lots of video cameras and informants in jail! The court must provide you with a lawyer if you can’t afford one. You have the right to speak to a lawyer before arraignment.

If you are arrested, you will be searched with or without your permission. As soon as possible, and in no case later than three hours after booking, you have the right to three phone calls: to a friend or relative, to a lawyer and to a bail bondsman.

Find out where they are being held, what the charges are
and how much bail will cost call the following:

San Diego Hall of Justice
330 W. Broadway San Diego, CA 92101

San Diego County Public Defender :
450 B St # 900 San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 338-4700

San Diego County Jail:
929 6th Avenue San Diego
(650) 636-0438

Citizens’ Review Board on Police Practices
202 C Street, MS 9A San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 236-6296

Fill out and save all completed incident reports. Be sure that they are legible and that you put your name on it in case office people need to do follow-up. Return scanner and any other equipment for the next COPWATCHers to use. Please check the equipment and leave a note if there is anything wrong with it.

Enter all incident reports into our online database.

Technical Support

Video Camera
Some points to keep in mind when filming:
• Don’t film people who obviously don’t want to be filmed. Tell people you are with Copwatch and ask their permission. We want them to know we are there to support them.
• Don’t film criminal conduct if you see any. Focus on the police.
• When you film, try not to record yourself getting into arguments with the police. It is very frustrating when we have good footage of an event, but a hostile commentary from the videographer. Try to let the situation speak for itself. Let your partner do the talking if it is necessary.
• Be sure to date and time stamp the footage (press the button which gives the date and time on the screen.). Try to video location markers, street signs etc. to verify the location.
.• You have the right to videotape, despite what some cops will tell you. If people or cops are in a public place, they don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy so you can tape them. You can not make audiotape recordings of people without their knowledge.

Police Scanner
The scanner is a portable radio that is used to monitor police radio communications. Tuned to a frequency used by San Diego police.

The scanner controls that a COPWATCHer may want to use are described here:

VOLUME: This knob is on the top of the scanner and it adjusts the volume coming out of the speaker or headphone. It also turns off the scanner so remember this when you are finishing your shift.

SQUELCH: This knob, right next to the volume knob, is adjusted to cut out the static between messages. Its like the mute button on an FM tuner.

MANUAL/SCAN: These are two buttons on the front of the scanner. When the scanner is first turned on, it is in scan mode, meaning that it flips through all 1000 channels repeatedly until it comes to a channel being used. It will monitor this channel until the transmission is ended and then resume scanning. Sometimes, you might want to stay on just one channel to monitor an important exchange. To do this, press the MANUAL button. The scanner will stay on the current channel. Every time you press the MANUAL button, you go up one channel. Pressing the SCAN button resumes scanning. When using the scanner, you are basically listening for locations. You want to find out WHERE to go to observe the police. Don’t be distracted by all of the other conversation happening on the scanner.

Also, in recent years, the police have reduced their use of radios and rely more on cell phones and computer terminals in their cars. Don’t worry if you aren’t hearing much. There might not be much going on.

If the scanner starts to act funny, the batteries are probably going dead.

Also, try to be discreet when using the scanner. It can easily make people on the street think that you are a cop or are working in some official capacity for the state. Keep it in your backpack and use headphones.

How to Deal with Police

Don’t ever leave or quit filming a scene until the situation is completely over. Not even if you were on your way home. If you need to change batteries or tapes, you should do so discreetly without a big fuss. Equipment problems should be handled smoothly and professionally.

A lot of people don’t want to be filmed. Remember, you aren’t filming them; you are filming the police. You can make this apparent by following the police with the camera when he/she walks to and from his patrol car, away from the suspects, etc. The announcement at the beginning of the intervention is done partly for this purpose. When people tell us not to film, the intervener says that we are not filming them, we are filming the police. Generally, this works. If a situation warrants it you should film no matter what, it is within your rights when you are on public property.

Responding to Threats to Arrest You

“You’re resisting arrest.”
Reply: No we’re not. No one here is intentionally preventing or obstructing you from effecting an arrest, search or transportation by using force against the peace officer or anyone else. We are acting nonviolently.
Key words: intentionally preventing or obstructing, force

“This is an unlawful assembly.”
Reply: Not, it’s not. We are not resisting your execution of process. We are not recklessly using physical force or violence or threatening to use force or violence. All we are doing is legally observing you and recording your actions.
Key words: riot, physical force, violence, not resisting execution of process

“You’re committing disorderly conduct.”
Reply: No, we’re not. We are stepping away as you requested, we’re not in your way, and we’re not obstructing public safety. We are standing a safe distance away. We are not using profane language or gestures.
Key words: refusal, order to disperse

“You’re obstructing a public thoroughfare (street, sidewalk, etc.).”
Reply: No, we’re not. We are not rendering impassable nor are we rendering this passage unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous. We are performing a public service. We are not obstructing traffic, and have obeyed a reasonable request or order to move.
Key words: impassable, unreasonably inconvenient, reasonable request or order

“You’re interfering with (or obstructing) a police officer.”
Reply: No, we’re not. We are not, with criminal negligence, interrupting, disrupting, impeding, or otherwise interfering We are not threatening any officer’s safety. All we are doing is legally observing you and recording your actions.
Key words: criminal negligence, interrupting, disrupting, impeding, interfering

“You’re obstructing governmental operations.”
Reply: No, we’re not. We are not recklessly hindering an official proceeding by noise or violent or tumultuous behavior or disturbance and have not continued after explicit official request to desist.
Key words: official request, disturbance, recklessly hindering

“You’re assaulting a police officer.”
Reply: No, we’re not. We are not intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to you or any other peace officer, nor are we threatening anyone with imminent bodily injury. No one here is in physical contact with you nor is anyone here trying to touch you. We are not threatening any officer’s safety.
Key words: bodily injury, imminent danger, touching

“You’re interfering with our ability to apprehend the suspect.”
Reply: No, we’re not. We are not preventing or hindering you from performing any of your duties. We are not here with intent to hinder the arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment of anyone (or with intent to hinder the arrest, detention, adjudication, or disposition of a child for engaging in delinquent conduct that violates a penal law of the grade of felony). All we are doing is observing the situation from a safe distance.
Key words: hindering, preventing

How to Deal With the Media

• Be courteous to the reporters.
• Be prepared to give the reporters a first and a last name and to be asked to take a picture or appear on camera. If you do not want to do this, then you are in no way obligated to, but keep in mind it doesn’t help for you to be there to offer any information about the group since the reporters can’t use it without a source.
• Keep in mind when talking to the media that you are doing so as a representative of Copwatch. If your views aren’t necessarily those of Copwatch, save them and focus on Copwatch’s message. It is preferable that personal information regarding members, personally held political views and patrolling habits are not shared with the press.
• Don’t act too eager when conducting an interview. This makes it weird for the person interviewing. We should act like we are used to talking to the press, discussing police brutality and that we can be used as a reliable source.
• Keep your answers brief so there is less chance that things get used out of context. This also helps keep unneeded chatter about internal operations from happening.
• Watch your body language and tone. If you’re nervous or defensive, it will show. Relax, but stay professional.
• During patrols, refer all questions to the propaganda/PR person. Everyone has a role during Copwatch and being distracted by a reporter on a deadline detracts from it. It’s ok to speak to the media after patrols, but stay on task during patrol.
• If you’re not sure about the answer a question, offer to get back to the press.
• If you wouldn’t say it on tape during patrol, don’t say it the media.

Media Q&A
What is it that Copwatch does?
We are an all volunteer group that regularly videotapes the police during traffic stops or during routine stops.

How did Copwatch come about?
People who were concerned with police brutality and racism in the city started Copwatch. We learned the laws, obtained legal support, studied other Copwatch tactics and learned our rights before patrolling.

Why do you feel Copwatch is necessary?
Nearly every industry and profession in America, from doctors to lawyers to clothing manufacturers, has an independent oversight group that monitors abuses within that industry. The police need this kind of oversight as well. We employ the police with our tax dollars—we should have the right to monitor their performance.

Is there a problem with police brutality?
Yes, there is a prevalent problem with over-reaction by the police, Luis Torres, Ida Lee Delaney, (insert recent victims’ names) are all examples of police brutality. Another big problem is the “blue wall of silence” in which officers won’t criticize the conduct of other officers publicly. We try to overcome this wall by documenting police activities on videotape.

Is Copwatch “anti-cop”?
As a group we are all anti-police brutality.

Aren’t you just defending criminals instead of hard working police?
No. We’re out there to ensure police do not abuse people’s rights.

Do you think Copwatch is effective?
Yes. When the people you are watching stand up straighter and practice politeness when interacting with those they are stopping, you realize that your presence is changing their behavior.

Do you catch a lot of brutality on camera?
We’re not patrolling to catch instances of brutality on camera, but to prevent it by police knowing we may be anywhere with cameras. We do our best to turn over footage of abuse to media and Internal Affairs.

What are the goals of Copwatch?
To establish Copwatch groups throughout the region and to establish civilian overview boards. We also demand an end to “shoot to kill” policies and high-speed chases.

How do the police react to Copwatch?
They generally keep their distance.

Do you think that people who are stopped by the police appreciate your presence?
Once they realize that we are not part of law enforcement or a television show, the response is usually quite positive.

Why did you join Copwatch?
It has been proven that police departments cannot be trusted to monitor their own behavior without bias, and if my use of a camera and knowledge of the law helps others, then I feel like my efforts in the fight against police brutality are well worth it.

Get a contact
Make sure to get a reporter’s business card or contact information (name, phone, fax, email, and which is best to use), find out if they regularly cover police and when the story you’ve been interviewed for is running (date and time).

How to File a Police Complaint

Those on the street may ask why we encourage people to file complaints and how to file a complaint. Copwatch encourages people to file complaints because a public record of police abuse exists that may be actionable by public officials, lawyers, etc. While we may not have faith that abusive cops will be fired, our struggle for justice must be fought on every level.

What is abuse?
The police are only allowed to use force in proportion to the force used by the suspect, and only in order to restrain the suspect during a lawful detention or arrest. Use of racial/ethnic slurs, anti-gay epithets or profanity against the public is generally frowned upon officially.

How to file a complaint
How complaints are filed depends on the police department. All complaints received by the San Diego Police Department are processed through the Internal Affairs Division. These complaints involve allegations such as excessive force, any discharge of firearms, or criminal activity such as theft. Complaints such as rude behavior or improper procedure, are forwarded to the individual officer’s division for investigation. In every case, the person making the complaint will be contacted during the investigation for additional information, and will be notified by mail of the final disposition.

A citizen who is dissatisfied with police services or believes they have witnessed or been a victim of police misconduct can file a complaint using one or more of the following methods:

By telephone to the San Diego Police Department Communications Division at (619) 531-2000. A supervisor will be dispatched to contact the reporting citizen as soon as possible.

In person at any police facility.

By telephone or in writing to the Chief of Police:
1401 Broadway, MS 700, San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 531-2777

By telephone or in writing to the Internal Affairs Unit:
1401 Broadway, MS 709, San Diego CA 92101
(619) 531-2801

To the Office of the Mayor, City of San Diego, 202 C Street, San Diego CA 92010

In person, by telephone or by writing to the Citizen’s Review Board:
202 C Street, MS 9A, San Diego CA 92101
(619) 236-6296

By the Chief’s Confidential Telephone Recorded Hotline at (619) 531-2672.

Encourage complainants to report abuses to their city council member, the mayor, their state representatives, judges, the ACLU, LULAC and NAACP. They can get many of these numbers from the area League of Women Voters, which is listed online or by calling information (411).

Federal complaints
Complainants can file federal civil rights complaints with the Department of Justice. The most effective means of filing a complaint is to write a letter to the Section explaining the situation about which you are complaining, with as much detail as possible. If you are aware of similar incidents involving others, please include that information as well. Please include information on how to contact you if we need further information (such as an address and telephone number). Also, do not include original documents as DoJ cannot guarantee their safe return. Address all complaints to:

Special Litigation Section
P.O. Box 66400
Washington, D.C. 20035-6400
(202-514-6255) or fax (202-514-0212 or 202-514-6273).

Police Codes

Ten Codes
10-1 ………. Receiving Poorly
10-2 ………. Receiving Well
10-4 ………. Acknowledgement
10-5 ………. Relay
10-6 ………. Busy
10-7 ………. Out-of-Service
10-8 ………. In-Service
10-9 ………. Repeat
10-10 ……… Remain in Service
10-13 ……… Advise Road or Weather Conditions
10-16 ……… Prisoner
10-17 ……… Report Routine
10-19 ……… Return to Station
10-20 ……… Location
10-21 ……… Phone your Station
10-21H……… Phone your Home (Emergencies Only)
10-22 ……… Disregard
10-23 ……… Standby
10-28 ……… Vehicle Registration
10-29 Local … Local check for Wants only (Persons or Plates)
10-29 NCIC …. Check for All Wants
10-34 ……… Are you Clear?
10-35 ……… Dangerous Person Alert
10-36 ……… Are you Clear?
10-87 ……… Meet the Officer 10-10
10-88 ……… Request for Cover Unit
10-89 ……… Bomb Threat
10-97 ……… Arrived at Scene
10-98 ……… Finished Late Assignment

Eleven Codes
11-6 ………. Discharging Firearms
11-7 ………. Prowler
11-8 ………. Person Down
11-10 ……… Conduct an Investigation
11-11 ……… Pickup or Area Check
11-12 ……… Injured Animal
11-13 ……… Dead Animal
11-14 ……… Dog Bite
11-15 ……… Ball Game in Street
11-24 ……… Abandoned Vehicle
11-27 ……… Felony Record – No Want
11-28 ……… Misdemeanor Record – No Want
11-29 ……… No Want
11-30 ……… Incomplete Phone Call
11-31 ……… Calling for Help
11-40 ……… Notify if Ambulance Needed
11-41 ……… Ambulance Needed
11-42 ……… Ambulance not Needed
11-44 ……… Coroner’s Case
11-45 ……… Attempt Suicide
11-46 ……… Report of Death
11-47 ……… Injured Person
11-48 ……… Furnish Transportation
11-49 ……… Vehicle Stop – No License Check
11-50 ……… Vehicle Stop – License Check (10-20 Only)
11-51 ……… Pedestrian Stop/Field Interview
11-52 ……… Are You O.K.?
11-53 ……… Security Check
11-55 ……… Hazardous Chemical Spill
11-60 ……… Investigate Water Leak
11-66 ……… Signals Out of Order
11-71 ……… Fire
11-80 ……… Serious Injury Accident
11-81 ……… Minor Injury Accident
11-82 ……… Non-Injury Accident
11-83 ……… No Detail Accident
11-84 ……… Traffic Control
11-85 ……… Request for Tow Truck
11-86 ……… Special Detail
11-88 ……… Assist Disabled Motorist
11-99 ……… Officer needs Help

187 ………. Homicide
207 ………. Kidnapping
211 ………. Robbery
242 ………. Battery
245 ………. A.D.W.
246 ………. Shooting at Dwelling
261 ………. Rape
273a ………. Child Abuse or Neglect
278 ………. Child Abduction
288 ………. Child Molest
314 ………. Indecent Exposure
330 ………. Gambling
374 ………. Illegal Dumping/Littering
415 ………. Disturbance
417 ………. Person with Weapon (Describe)
451 ………. Arson
459 ………. Burglary
470 ………. Forgery
480 ………. Felony Hit and Run (20001)
481 ………. Hit and Run (20002A)
487 ………. Grand Theft
484/488 ……. Petty Theft
496 ………. Possession of Stolen Property
502 ………. Drunk Driving (23152)
503 ………. Auto Theft (10851)
504 ………. Tampering with Vehicle (10852)
505 ………. Reckless Driving (23103)
518 ………. Extortion
537 ………. Defrauding InnKeeper
586 ………. Illegal Parking
594 ………. Vandalism
595 ………. Runaway Vehicle (20002b)
597 ………. Cruelty to Animals
602 ………. Trespass
647(b) …….. Prostitution
647(f) …….. Drunk
653m ………. Phone Threat
5150 ………. Mental Case
11350 ……… Possession of Dangerous Drugs
11357 ……… Possession of Marijuana
12020 ……… Possession of Illegal Weapon
12025 ……… Carrying Concealed Weapon

Code 3 …….. Emergency (Lights and Siren)
Code 4 …….. No Further Help Needed
Code 5 …….. Stakeout
Code 6 …….. Remain Clear of Area
Code 7 …….. Eating
Code 8 …….. Restroom
Code 10 ……. SWAT Alert
Code 11 ……. SWAT Staging Location
Code Blue ….. Bus/Taxi in Trouble
Emergency ….. I Want the Air

2 Responses to Copwatch Training Manual

  1. Cristina says:

    I every time spent my half an hour to read this web site’s articles every day along with a mug of coffee.

  2. Tracy Day says:

    I am interested in becoming a Copwatch er. I live in Boulder, Co. and am out of work due to the pandemic. The current situation in America has to change and I wish to help.

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