March 20, 2015

Holding Law Enforcement Officers Accountable: Participation and Protest

Jocelyn Simonson, New York University School of Law, is publishing Copwatching in volume 104 of the California Law Review (2016). Here is the abstract.

Legal scholars today rightly criticize the lack of public participation in local policing as a barrier to true police accountability. When searching for solutions, however, scholars are often preoccupied with studying and perfecting consensus-based methods of participation such as community policing, neglecting the study of more adversarial, confrontational forms of local participation in policing. This article challenges the scholarly focus on consensus-based strategies of police accountability through an exploration of the phenomenon of organized copwatching – groups of local residents who wear uniforms, carry visible recording devices, patrol neighborhoods, and film police-citizen interactions in an effort to hold police departments accountable to the populations they police.

This article argues that the practice of copwatching illustrates both the promise of adversarialism as a form of civic engagement and the potential of traditionally powerless populations to contribute to constitutional norms governing police conduct. Organized copwatching serves a unique function in the world of police accountability by giving these populations a vehicle through which to have direct, real-time input into policing decisions that affect their neighborhoods. This article urges scholars and reformers to take adversarial, bottom-up mechanisms of police accountability seriously – not just as protest, but as true participation. Doing so requires respecting observation and contestation as legitimate civic gestures worthy of protection.
Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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