WeCopwatch trainer David Whitt teaching a copwatch college session in San Francisco in 2018. Now, due to social distancing guidelines, the curriculum that is normally taught in person during copwatch college has been made available online.

Interest in Community Police Watch Training Soars as Courses Go Online

Berkeley Copwatch is one of several Bay Area organizations that instruct observers in how to record interactions between the public and law enforcement officials that are seeing a surge in demand for their services. The groups have shifted their tactics and focused more resources on online course delivery in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the surge in protests. They’re also ramping up misconduct tracking efforts and social media campaigns as the public focus on police brutality heightens.

Oakland Activists Launch Mental Health Hotline as Alternative to Police

In response to the disproportionate law enforcement violence against people with mental illness and amid ongoing calls to defund or reform police, activists with the Anti Police-Terror Project on Friday night will launch an initiative in Oakland designed to offer an alternative to calling the police in mental health crises. The initiative, called M.H. First Oakland, will begin operations as a hotline with the number (510) 999-9MH1.

Lariza Dugan-Cuadra.

Federal Enforcement Actions Recall Authoritarian Crackdowns for Central Americans in U.S.

Almost two weeks ago, protesters in Portland, Ore., were detained by federal police and taken away in unmarked cars. Five days later, President Trump said that he would send federal agents to a dozen other liberal cities, including Oakland. For some of the Bay Area’s Central American residents, there are parallels between this moment and their own experiences with authoritarian governments in their countries of origin. Lariza Dugan-Cuadra, director at advocacy and social service nonprofit CARECEN SF, spoke to “Civic” about how the Bay Area’s Central American diaspora is reacting.  “One of the things I always ask myself, like, why doesn’t the American people rise up?

security-camera

S.F. Police Accessed Private Cameras to Surveil Protesters, Digital Privacy Group Reveals

When a tech executive helped bankroll a private network of security cameras in San Francisco, it was touted as crime-fighting technology that would not be directly in the control of law enforcement. But a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy advocacy group, shows that the San Francisco Police Department gained remote access to this private camera network for days at a time during protests in late May and early June. The privacy group says that access was a violation of San Francisco law. The camera network in question is managed by the Union Square Business Improvement District. Emails obtained by the foundation show that the group received, and approved, a request from SFPD to obtain remote access to the cameras for 48 hours on May 31.

Tracking Surveillance Tech Used by Bay Area Law Enforcement

From automated license plate readers to drones to devices designed to identify gunshots, law enforcement agencies use a variety of tools to gather data. Many are visible, if not immediately obvious to casual passersby. Dave Maass, senior investigative researcher with the digital privacy nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, has been keeping a close eye on the proliferation of surveillance technology and helps educate the public on how to identify it. 

Stanford students Craig Nelson and Shelby Perkins have been researching which law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area use which technologies and mapping the results. Nelson and Perkins have also been tracking whether and how well agencies are complying with a state law that requires them to publish their standards, policies, procedures and training materials online. “When people are going out into the world we are now constantly surrounded by surveillance technology and it has become somewhat invisible to us even though it’s just right there in front of our eyes.

cyrus farivar

Law Enforcement Monitors Protesters, Reporting Shows

With hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in recent weeks to protest police killings and racism, the law enforcement response has been highly visible. But in less obvious ways, law enforcement officers also gather information about protesters both online and in public. Cyrus Farivar, a reporter on the tech investigations unit of NBC News in San Francisco and author of “Habeas Data” has covered some recent cases in which law enforcement surveillance of social media posts about protests has resulted in real life enforcement actions, including arrest by the FBI. Read Farivar’s reporting at NBC News. “I think for most of us we understand, like, OK: The police are looking for one criminal mastermind and they’re taking extraordinary measures to go after one person.

Protesters Weigh In on Defunding Police

At the demonstrations against police brutality and racism that have brought thousands to San Francisco’s streets in recent weeks, many protesters have carried signs carrying a demand to “defund the police.” The uprising sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has turned a spotlight on this proposal, and locally, Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton have announced they are developing a proposal for something in that vein. How much money exactly is in play is unclear, but Walton and Breed have indicated they intend to redirect a portion of the SFPD’s nearly $612 million budget to benefit the city’s African American community. At a June 9 protest in front of City Hall, the crowd cheered and clapped when Breed brought up that proposal in her remarks. “Civic” spoke with people demonstrating about whether the idea of defunding the police department appealed to them, how drastically they would reduce funding, and what they would like to see money reinvested in. “I think that the defunding is different than reform.