Police officers monitoring the West Campus area now have an extra set of eyes on them in an effort to expose enforcement officials who violate the law on the job.
Members of the Peaceful Streets Project, an Austin-based civil and legal rights advocacy organization, expanded their efforts into West Campus Thursday night with their first area “cop watch.” During these watches, organization members monitor law enforcement officials by filming them in action, often at traffic stops. The organizatiom will be monitoring the West Campus area on a bi-weekly basis.
The Peaceful Streets Project also accepts complaints from those who feel they have been victimized by the police and post those complaints online. They hold informational sessions to better educate the public of their legal rights as well. Antonio Buehler, Peaceful Streets Project founder, said the organization chose to expand its efforts into West Campus because Austin Police Department officer Gary Griffin was appointed district representative for the West Campus area this summer, meaning he oversees police initiatives there. Griffin was fired from the Austin Police Department in 2007 for beating up a mentally ill homeless man at a bus stop earlier that year. He was later rehired after an investigation into the beating.
Before the first West Campus cop watch, the organization held a training session in conjunction with Libertarian Longhorns to explain legal rights people should be aware of when dealing with police.
Buehler was arrested three times this year while filming police and charged with spitting on an officer in the first case and interfering with public duty after that. He has denied the allegations against him and has not yet stood trial on the charges. Buehler said all arrests were made out of retaliation and claims multiple witnesses and video recordings support his stance.
Current APD policy allows members of the general public to film police in any public place unless such recording interferes with police activity.
At the informational session, New York licensed attorney Kaja Tretjak said a person’s rights differ depending on what type of interaction they are having with a law enforcement official. She said there are three ways to classify an interaction: conversation, detention and arrest. For example, at the detention stage, a person is not under arrest but is not free to leave.
Tretjak also explained the best way to handle a police encounter at a house party.
“Try to avoid having the cops called in the first place,” Tretjak said. “Keep people on the property, try to be private and keep the noise level to a minimum.”
Jose Nino, president of Libertarian Longhorns, said his organization felt it was important to host the event for several reasons.
“It is a great educational opportunity for UT students to learn about the rights they have and how to flex them ...” he said. “It’s all about empowerment and letting people know that they have the power to do things to create a safer community around them.”
Printed on Monday, October 29, 2012 as: Project watches police in West Campus area