Hamilton Copwatch in the News!
Hamilton Spectator - in print
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Cop Watch: To serve and protect
Written by Nicole O’Reilly
They patrol Hamilton’s streets wearing bright orange safety vests, carrying cameras and incident report forms, looking for police.
Motivated by what they allege to be abuse of power, excessive force and harrassment of the poor and socially marginalized, they say someone needs to be watching the Hamilton Police Service.
Meet Hamilton Cop Watch, a loosely assembled group of about half a dozen local residents who formed out of various social justice and activist groups this summer. They are based on the model of a similar group that formed in Berkeley, California in the 1990s, said member Devin Crawford, 23.
Crawford was previously part of the Hamilton Day of Action Against Police Brutality group that formed following the shooting death of 19-year-old Andreas Chinnery by a Hamilton Police officer last February. The Special Investigations Unit cleared the officer.
The group cites recent incidents including Chinnery’s death and the mistaken arrest and beating of Po La Hay as reasons for their incarnation.
Crawford also criticized the force’s ACTION team’s behaviour, such as how they stop and question people as they patrol the downtown on foot or by bike.
“They’re not going to ask a guy in a business suit,” Crawford said, adding that he believes the people targeted are often young or have mental health or addiction issues.
There are many people from different backgrounds who feel threatened when police stop and question them, he added.
It’s beyond saying hello, said member Sofie Murray, 22, adding that officers often ask for identification, where people are going and other person details. Many people don’t know their rights, she said.
Contacted by the Spectator, Sergeant Terri-Lynn Collings said police are aware of the group.
During a walk-along and interview for an unrelated story earlier this year, Sergeant Jay Turner told The Spectator that the ACTION team is intended to get back to the roots of community policing, by getting to know business owners and people in high crime areas.
Murray and Crawford acknowledge that there are issues downtown, but they believe the answer lies with social services, not policing.
On a typical Cop Watch patrol - which began this fall - one member will record a police officer’s activity, while the other fills out a report of what they are witnessing, Murray said.
She recalled a recent outing where an officer was handing out jaywalking tickets to people downtown. When the officer noticed the crew, Murray alleges he yelled in their faces and asked whether they had permission to record.
Anyone can make a recording in a public space.
In their patrols so far, members have not recorded any incidents where they believe excessive force was used, Murray said. But if they did, he said they would consider handing the footage over to another group or publishing it on their website.
Both Murray and Crawford say they have had bad personal interactions with police, but insist Cop Watch is not motivated by personal malice. Rather, they advocate making fundamental changes in the way police operate.
“It’s about a larger pattern,” Murray said, adding that a lack of transparency is also a problem.
Crawford alleges police often “criminalize” the poor and those with mental health and addiction by arresting or ticketing people for panhandling, loitering and the sex trade.
They hope Hamilton Cop Watch will grow larger. They also hope people will call them to report ongoing incidents to be filmed.
For more information visit www.hamiltoncopwatch.com