Copwatch - a project of Peace and Justice Works


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About Portland Copwatch (PCW)

Who is Portland Copwatch?

Portland Copwatch (PCW) is a grassroots group promoting police accountability through citizen action. Portland Copwatch, originally known as POPSG* was formed as a project of Peace and Justice Works (formerly Portland Peaceworks) in June, 1992. In January, 1992, Portland Police shot a 12-year old boy who had been taken hostage, and in April of that year, Los Angeles erupted in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. Since its formation, PCW has consulted dozens of groups and individuals locally and nationwide on the issue of civilian review of the police, assembled a broad range of reports, articles, interviews, and other resources; and written a "Proposal for an Effective Civilian Review Board."

PCW also participates in community forums on police accountability, and regularly attends meetings of Portland's "review board", known as the Citizen Review Committee of the Independent Police Review Division, and other bodies (such as the now-defunct [Police] Chief's Forum).

Since late 1992, we have maintained the Portland Copwatch incident report line for monitoring police behavior in Portland. We take reports and present complainants with options to seek remands in cases of police misconduct, harassment, and/or brutality.

In December, 1993, we published the first issue of our newsletter, the People's Police Report. Each of the subsequent issues has included information regarding local and national police accountability efforts; reprints of portions of the Portland Police Association's newsletter which are overtly hostile toward the citizenry; and (in most issues) a wallet-size "Your Rights and the Police" card in English, Spanish, Russian, Serbo-Croation, Vietnamese, or Arabic.

From late 1995 to fall 1996 we conducted foot patrols in Portland's "Old Town" area where many homeless and Latino people congregate. During these "Copwatch beats", we observe police behavior, make contacts and spread information throughout the community. We coordinated these beats with Sisters of the Road Cafe, a local restaurant which employs and caters to the homeless population, as well as JOIN, a Center for Involvement, a homeless advocacy organization located on Portland's east side. We have also walked a "beat" on Hawthorne Blvd and done Copwatching at a number of demonstrations.

About the same time, we began holding "Your Rights and the Police" seminars. With the aid of volunteer lawyers, we discuss civil rights in the context of police stops and the current system for complaining about police misconduct.
We also hold Copwatch trainings to teach people how to do observing of police conduct so they can join us or start their own "beats."

These actions are part of Copwatch's continuing effort to balance the ideals of a "perfect" civilian review system with the realities of Portland's unique population mix, its Police Bureau and union, and the concerns of its citizens.

We want to emphasize that we have respect for the dangers and pitfalls of being a police officer. This does not excuse police when they go outside the limits of the law, nor does it make bad laws good policy. We believe police accountability to the community and equal rights and treatment are of utmost importance.

We would like to acknowledge the support and, to some extent, the authorship of Berkeley Copwatch, pioneers in this field, without whom our program would be impossible.

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The Goals of Portland Copwatch

1) To empower victims of police misconduct to pursue their grievances, with the goal of resolving individual cases and preventing future occurrences.

2) to educate the general public and, in particular, "target groups" of police abuse on their rights and responsibilities.

3) to promote and monitor an effective system for civilian oversight of police.

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What Else Does Copwatch Do?

In addition to the above-listed activities (publishing our newsletter, conducting trainings and seminars, and Copwatching), we actively participate in a police abuse list-serve on the internet. We continue to develop a Copwatch manual with references to city, state and county laws and ordinances and a list of Portland Police personnel. We have also worked with the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Police Accountability Campaign to hold speakouts for community members to tell their stories and get organized.

We are also a part of the National Coalition on Police Accountability (N-COPA) based in Chicago, whose conferences we attend when possible. Through their work we are able to network with activists all over the U.S. In October, 2004, we hosted the NCOPA conference in Portland.

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How Do I Get Involved?

Copwatch usually meets at 6:30 PM on the first Monday of each month. We require that anyone who wants to come to a meeting first attend an orientation.

Call our office at 503-236-3065 to check for exact dates and location, as the meetings sometimes move around, or to set up an orientation. (You can also email meetings@portlandcopwatch.org.)

As a project of Peace and Justice Works, we are responsible to report to the PJW general membership and follow general principles of nonviolence and being inclusive. We also try to analyze the issue of police accountability through the prisms of ending racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism, and violent conflict resolution.

Our group is all volunteer and operates on a consensus basis.

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Why is Copwatch Needed?

Portland Police, like police in other cities, have an integrated subculture of officers who disregard human rights and are verbally and/or physically abusive of members of the general population. The Independent Police Review Division receives 300-600 complaints a year, of which a small percentage are sustained. While they have the power to investigate on their own, the IPR has never done so, instead, they turn over just about 10% of cases for investigation... to the Police Bureau's Internal Affairs office. Many people probably do not make complaints for fear of retaliation or because they do not trust police to investigate their own misconduct. Since 1993, Portland Police have shot over 100 people, over one-third of them fatally.

In order to curb police abuse from name-calling to shootings, the citizenry must come together and demand better training, discipline, and investigation into allegations of wrongdoing. Communities of color and the poor are most affected by police misconduct. Women, gays and lesbians are also often victims of police misconduct, and find themselves in the same position as victims of domestic violence; that is, nowehre to turn and nobody who believes them. Young people and political protestors are also often targets of the police, and are in particular need to know their rights and responsibilities.

*-People Overseeing Police Study Group (POPSG)
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On This Page

  • Who is PCW?
  • The Goals of PCW
  • What Else PCW Does
  • How Do I Get Involved?
  • Why is PCW Needed?  

  • Portland Copwatch
    PO Box 42456
    Portland, OR 97242
    (503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
    e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org
    (Click here for other email info)

    Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

    Peace and Justice Works home page
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    Page last updated February 27, 2012