LAPD’s Call for 10,000 Eyes and Ears: Counterinsurgency in Your Community

By the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recently released a call for 5,000 volunteers to staff a vast network of neighborhood patrols run by local police departments but composed of community residents. The lie being sold here is that police-screened volunteers can act in a community’s best interest: the enlisted are trained to “deter property crimes” and “spot a potential crime” before they happen, giving volunteers the authority to summon police to sites at their discretion.

We at the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition reject the notion of community policing in all its forms. Communities must refuse to participate in this program and demand an immediate end to this operation. Rather than promoting community safety, the volunteer policing program extends the LAPD’s surveillance capacities, and reorients community relations toward those most enthusiastic about collaborating with the police.

There is a long history of law enforcement agencies deputizing community members to serve as police eyes and ears leading to violence against Black, Brown, poor, and otherwise “suspect” bodies. More recent manifestations of this violence, like LAPD’s iWATCH — See Something, Say Something program, use community volunteers as a weapon and gives these participants a license to racially profile. Through police training, volunteers are taught how to think like the police, profile like the police, and suspect the same bodies that police already find suspicious. Additionally, websites like Nextdoor.Com have been deputized by the LAPD to share suspicious activities despite (or perhaps because of) the way it has become a “magnet for racial profiling.”

Historic and current realities continually illustrate Black, Brown, and poor bodies are targeted and profiled by police. The application for L.A.’s community-based policing program selectively excludes certain run-ins with law enforcement which means bodies typically suspected by police would be absent from this volunteer force. This exclusion is no accident; police programs are rooted in white supremacy and work to preserve a white order. Diversification is not the answer for this or any program like it, for police oversight and training can and will turn any member of our communities into a weapon. The only way to protect our community is to abolish this program and any like it.

Los Angeles Valley Bureau’s police department credits the fall of property-based crime in its seven divisions to the volunteer patrol program. However, police manipulate data — by reclassifying what constitutes a property-based crime, for example — in order to skew results. Drawing a direct correlation between drops in crime and the volunteer patrols is just another way of selling violent displacement as progress and security — the same pattern of “progress” cited whenever the police introduce a new program or technology, they want legitimized.

LAPD’s initiative to recruit and train 5,000 volunteers illustrates the soft power of pacification. Civilian participation in this hybrid police-military project, more commonly known as counterinsurgency, strives to make police infiltration and violence more digestible to the broader population. This call by the LAPD replicates U.S. military occupation of foreign lands for both are based on counterinsurgency and its tactics. These tactics are designed “to build trust and build trusted networks” through community and public spaces like churches, non-profits, corporations, and academia. Both abroad and at home, the ultimate goal is to win the “hearts and minds” through manipulation and infiltration until communities “believe the trust is real.” But an occupying force — like community police — is never there for the good of the people.

Counterinsurgency is a psychological project that requires that the broader population not only believe in the state, but also identify with the age-old police maxim: the police are the public and the public are the police. More concretely, it facilitates the mass surveillance of marginalized communities while effectively bringing the prison to the community under the auspices of community wellbeing. The carceral state becomes all encompassing.

Recruiting volunteers to do the work of a police department that already commands the greatest share of the city budget is a violent sleight of hand. This “shared responsibility” in the police project trains your neighbors to see the world through the eyes of the police, effectively recruiting more soldiers to defend capitalist order — an order based on white supremacy. Given the atmosphere of routine extrajudicial, racialized police stalking and killing of poor, Black, and Brown bodies, we at the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition call for an immediate end to counterinsurgency operations (aka community policing) — in all guises — in all our neighborhoods.

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