Bad apples beware — Stockton has it’s very own cop watching team.
Canda Press are a duo of self described “police accountability journalists” who operate an Instagram account called @209badapples, which currently has nearly 4,000 followers, along with a YouTube channel under the name “Canda Press,” which carries just over 5,000 subscribers. Cop watching has been practiced for several decades, most famously by the Black Panthers of Oakland in the 1970s, but the death of George Floyd in May 2020 and the demonstrations that followed have brought renewed interest to the activist tradition.
Cop watching today usually involves filming on-duty police officers as they conduct traffic stops, make arrests, or respond to police protests. Thanks to social media, footage of police misconduct can be easily shared and seen by mass audiences.
“I think it’s very important to put a camera on police officers to hold them accountable, to keep them transparent,” said a one of the Canda Press local cop watchers, who asked not to be identified for fear of harassment. “Their body cams are not reliable, and they don’t release full body cam [footage].”
Saving lives was the motivating factor for the Stockton-based cop watching to begin in 2020.
“We are tired of meeting mothers of dead sons or daughters that faced police brutality,” the watcher said. “If we film them [the police] they probably will try to behave.”
Via social media, Canada Press’ work has received “a variety of responses, from good to really bad. We’ve gotten death threats.”
Police frustration with being watched is visible in videos posted to the @209badapples Instagram, with officers approaching the camera person. In an Aug. 24, 2020 video, it appears the officer is recording the watcher back as the person asks for the officer’s badge number.
“They’re [the police] are very childish, they like to dox people once they know their identities,” said the local watcher.
Why might watching upset cops? The watcher said they have noticed a racial bias in the behavior of local police, referring to the @209badapples Instagram account videos as documentation.
“From the traditional news media, to freelance journalists, or any individual, we understand they have the right to film law enforcement officers,” said the Stockton Police Department in a statement. “When people do film us, we want them to do so from a safe distance and never interfere with an officer who is engaged in their duties.
“As most agencies now have body worn cameras, and as department policy and state law allows, to help build transparency with the community, we have seen more law enforcement departments release ‘Critical Incident’ videos to the public,” the statement added.
Some other sources of local cop watching exist as well. The Instagram accounts @blmsacramento and @sacsocialjusticeevents do occasional watching, the latter account documenting police behavior at many of the Sacramento protests this past year.
Similar work is done by Mr. Checkpoint, a social media personality active since 2011 who launched an app that warns southern Californians of traffic checkpoints.
The Instagram account @mrcheckpoint contains lots of cellphone footage of police during George Floyd demonstrations in Los Angeles and he has helped re-popularize the phrase “always film the police” with his mainstream television news appearances.
Most cop watching footage is cell phone footage recorded by bystanders who don’t typically engage in cop watching.
Canda Press is a bit more involved, using a police scanner bought off “Amazon, or something” to listen to police radio chatter and locate potential trouble, although usually they just “stumble across” traffic stops as they drive around.
Regardless of how it is obtained, the footage from cop watchers, other journalists, or bystanders can sometimes be the only evidence of police misconduct. Filming police can either provide important evidence to a case or prevent a tragic incident in the first place.
“Always film the police, cop watching isn’t harassing cops,” said the watcher.