Last November, Citizens Awareness Asheville, an organization of community activists concerned about purported excesses and misconduct by local law enforcement, announced the formation of a “Copwatch” program.
Such programs, active in cities including Los Angeles, Berkeley, Houston and New Orleans, involve volunteers going around neighborhoods on foot patrols, monitoring the activities of the police.
Just more than half a year later, the program is up and running with its first group of volunteers and its hotline operational, Copwatch organizer David Ireland tells Xpress.
“We’ve got 15 volunteers, with a core group of about eight,” he says. “We’ve been going out on foot patrols [and] we hope to expand that soon with people patrolling their own neighborhoods. That’s really the way this works best.”
About a month ago, Ireland says, members of established Copwatch groups came to Asheville to help train the volunteers and showed them the movie These Streets are Watching, which explores the groups’ purpose and activities.
Right now, most of the patrols have focused on “the projects,” Ireland says, such as Pisgah View Apartments and Lee-Walker Heights. “We haven’t gotten out to Shiloh yet, but we will soon,” he adds.
So far, the volunteers have mostly been telling the people they encounter about Copwatch, informing them about their rights under the law and showing them how to fill out incident reports. The hotline also handles individual complaints.
“In Pisgah View recently, one young woman told us about some problems she’d had [with the police] and filled out an incident report right there on her doorstep,” Ireland reports.
He’s optimistic about the program’s future, he says. “I think it’s working. We’re really getting the word out to people in the projects that they don’t have to be compliant to every little thing the police tell them to do. They don’t have to just let them search their backpacks or their pockets without a warrant.”
Asheville Police Chief Bill Hogan has said that he doesn’t have a problem with Copwatch groups, saying back in November “anyone’s free to videotape anything.”
Copwatch will make a presentation as part of a poetry slam at Pisgah View on Sunday, June 1.
Asheville’s Copwatch can be contacted at 398-4817.