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On Our Watch

Author: NPR

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You know the refrain. With each new scandal involving law enforcement, another horrific video of misconduct, evidence of assault, or act of fatal negligence, police officials tell the public: "We're investigating."

But what really happens inside those internal investigations that promise accountability?

For decades, the process for how police police themselves has been inconsistent, if not opaque. In some states, like California, these proceedings were completely hidden behind a wall of official secrecy. After a new police transparency law unsealed scores of internal affairs files, NPR and KQED reporters set out to examine these cases and the shadow world of police discipline. Hosted by KQED Criminal Justice reporter Sukey Lewis, On Our Watch brings listeners into the rooms where officers are questioned and witnesses are interrogated to find out who this system is really protecting. Is it the officers, or the public they've sworn to serve? New episodes on Thursdays.
8 Episodes
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What happens to police officers who use excessive force, tamper with evidence or sexually harass someone? In California, internal affairs investigations were kept secret from the public — until a recent transparency law unsealed thousands of files. On Our Watch is a limited-run podcast from NPR and KQED that brings you into the rooms where officers are interrogated and witnesses are questioned to find out who the system of police accountability really serves, and who it protects. New episodes drop weekly, starting Thursday, May 20.
In Good Faith

In Good Faith

2021-05-2048:2312

In the small Northern California town of Rio Vista, a woman named Katheryn Jenks calls 911 for help. But after the police arrive, she ends up injured and inside a jail cell, facing serious charges. That same day, California Governor Jerry Brown signs a new law, State Senate Bill 1421, that opens up long hidden records of police misconduct, including files that might change the outcome of Jenks' case.
Conduct Unbecoming

Conduct Unbecoming

2021-05-2747:559

One officer in Los Angeles used car inspections to hit on women. In the San Francisco Bay Area, another woman says an officer used police resources to harass and stalk her. The California Highway Patrol quietly fired both of them for sexual harassment, but never looked into whether their misconduct was criminal. The second episode of On Our Watch examines the system of accountability for officers who abuse their power for sex and exposes where that system falls short.
20-20 Hindsight

20-20 Hindsight

2021-06-0354:057

After his son is shot and killed by a Richmond, Calif. police officer, a father looking for answers becomes a police transparency advocate. When the files about his son's death are released, they show an accountability system that seems to hang on one question: did the officer fear for their life? And in a rare interview, we hear from the officer who pulled the trigger.
Perceived Threat

Perceived Threat

2021-06-1050:246

A 16-year-old Black kid walks into a gas station in Stockton, Calif. to buy gummy worms for his little sister. When the teen gets in an argument with the clerk over a damaged dollar bill, a white officer in plainclothes decides to intervene — with force. In the fourth episode of On Our Watch, we trace the ripple effects of this incident over the next 10 years in a department trying to address racism and bias. But can the chief's efforts at truth and reconciliation work when the accountability process seems to ignore the truth?
Neglect of Duty

Neglect of Duty

2021-06-1753:537

An officer is repeatedly disciplined for not turning in his police reports on time. A mom goes to the police asking for help with her missing daughters. In the fifth episode of On Our Watch, we look at what can happen when police don't follow through on reports of victimization, and an accountability process that doesn't want to examine those failures.
The Brady Rule

The Brady Rule

2021-06-2441:206

Fellow officers long suspected a veteran detective in Antioch, Calif., was leaking operational police secrets to a drug dealer. For years, the department didn't act on their concerns. Even after the detective was finally fired in 2017, his record remained secret. In episode six of On Our Watch we look at the incentives departments have to investigate dishonest cops and what the secrecy around police misconduct means for criminal defendants who are prosecuted on their testimony.
Under Color of Law

Under Color of Law

2021-07-0801:07:038

One of the first police shootings to be captured on cell phone, millions saw Bay Area Rapid Transit police Officer Johannes Mehserle fire a single, fatal gunshot into Oscar Grant's back as the 22-year-old lay face down on the train station platform. Now, a lawsuit filed by NPR member station KQED has forced BART to comply with California's 2019 police transparency law, and release never-before-heard tapes from inside that investigation.
Comments (17)

Matthew Stephenson

It's really worrying that officers can claim they were in fear for their life in a fight they start. If you know fights can make you feel this worried, don't start them by dragging otherwise peaceful people to the ground! Petey wasn't being violent, and the cop had his name, so where's the issue with him walking off? It doesn't even seem like he's being accused of anything at the time, so although the cop seems to be saying he wouldn't do anything differently, where's the need to detain and control him in the first place?

Jul 21st
Reply

Hannah Church

I could never put my shoes in that of an officers. I'm never saying I could do better- but if you cannot see that we desperately need to do something different with policing...

Jul 8th
Reply (1)

DrRayTay

If the kid was leaving the store when the cop pulled him back in, how is that trespassing? There was absolutely no reason to touch that kid to begin with.

Jul 4th
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DrRayTay

“I don’t believe you at this point” “I’m not saying you’re lying” “This room smells like alcohol” “We take this very seriously” Yet another example of why victims don’t report.

Jul 4th
Reply

Nay E.

This would have never happened to a white kid the cop would’ve paid for the candy. Slave patrols to Lynwood Vikings (La sheriff department gang)

Jun 27th
Reply

Nay E.

Crazy that a cop isn’t suppose to shoot someone running away but they do anyways....

Jun 27th
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Edward Fraker

absolutely insane! I am curious the frequency of these violations. If it were a citizen they would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. California has some of the very strictest stalking laws in the nation. And these sociopaths are paid to do it!

Jun 15th
Reply

Jon Ferry

I understand why you are asking why cops arnt held accountable, but what about state senators that started molesting young boys when he was still a principal of a small town jr. high school, moved on to protecting and profiting off a TT program for decades, is friends with a former chief of police who is now in jail for raping his 4 year old granddaughter, and is still in fucking office. NPR to scared to expose the truth and protect children? I have tried contacting anyone in the media, I have proof and hundreds of witnesses, but still, no one cares or they are to afraid. Prove me and all survivors wrong, jonstgwd@gmail.com

Jun 15th
Reply

mando8000

If you aren't going to police correctly, don't wear the badge you don't deserve it. you're supposed to make things better not worse enforce the law not your own judgment on people.

Jun 11th
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Melissa

I'm on the cops side. The only emergency that occurred was after she got bit by the dog. What have we learned? Don't call the cops unless you have an emergency. it's pretty simple.

Jun 8th
Reply (5)

Russ

This story seriously bothers me. This police officer is so full of it, there is absolutely no way this guy continued charging even once after being shot in the chest let alone 3 times, and if he's going to lie about that then he would definitely lie about him going after the gun. I find the Officer in the interview to be smug that he got away with it. My heart goes out to the Perez family and hopefully one day they will get justice for Petey

Jun 3rd
Reply
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