Who polices the police?

As was demonstrated on the videotape of Anne-Marie Peladeau’s arrest last week, police don’t always use the best tactics when dealing with lawbreakers. But even though Peladeau’s actions weren’t easy for them to deal with, she stole cigarettes, crashed into a police car, and resisted arrest even after she was handcuffed, she didn’t deserve the harsh treatment she received. Peladeau was slammed against the police cruiser, her head shoved into the doorframe as the police pushed her into the vehicle.

No one decides how the police deal with a given situation except the cops themselves. People aren’t aware of what goes on behind the scenes, and most criminals’ stories aren’t heard or aren’t believed because they aren’t considered respectable citizens.

The police have a tough job dealing with people who break the law, and sometimes they’re caught using excessive force. But how many cases of unnecessary violence and police brutality go unreported?

The only reason the public is aware of Peladeau’s arrest is because her brother’s Quebecor television station happened to catch the action from a helicopter flying over the scene. The station played the video over and over, because it was a big news story for them. But most people who are arrested don’t have that advantage. Most people don’t have Mayor Tremblay standing up for them either.

In some cities, citizens are trying to take the law into their own hands by “policing the police”. A group called Cop Watch has installments throughout Canada and the U.S. The members of Cop Watch take it upon themselves to carry cameras and video recorders to catch cops performing wrongdoings.

In Brooklyn, in January, the Village Voice ran a story about three men who formed their own Cop Watch coalition and were arrested for their efforts. After hearing rumours of a violent arrest in their neighborhood, they followed the sound of sirens.

Seeing the 30 or so police cars at the scene, they pushed their way into the middle of the action and started recording what they saw. Police nearby asked them to leave but they refused, saying they had a right to observe. It led to one of the men being shoved, and all three of them sleeping behind bars that night.

In Montreal, we have an active Cop Watch group through the Montreal Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COBP), which has been around since 1995. COBP was formed to support victims of police brutality and other abuses. They help to protect and inform victims, witnesses and people who are concerned about police brutality and abuse.

While police have a difficult job to do, and while violence may sometimes be justified when apprehending dangerous criminals, Peladeau’s arrest proves that it’s a good idea to watch the cops. Police can go too far, and it’s good to know that we have groups like Cop Watch and COBP to keep the thin blue line on the straight and narrow.


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