The first incident that set Jose Vela on the path to having front and rear dash cams installed in his car happened in 2009. He was visiting his old man in Alamo, and his 7-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, wandered off. Vela and his wife searched but couldn't find him. They called the police. Eventually, a resident discovered Vela's son and phoned it in. The family was reunited, but, Vela told Unfair Park, not until the police threatened to arrest him and his wife. Nothing came of it, but Vela learned to be wary of police officers.
The second incident came a couple years later when his wife tried to pick up a friend from Love Field. She thought she saw her friend, so she pulled into a passenger loading area. It wasn't her friend, but an officer saw her and told her she needed to move, Vela said. She couldn't pull out because of the passing traffic. Vela said that's when the cop became angry and wrote his wife a ticket for refusing to leave.
Vela decided to strike back.
He started Dallas Cop Block in September 2012. Cop Block is national, but it's more of an idea than an organized group. Anyone who wants to can start a charter, and they can write their own policies, if they even want them. It's decentralized. On CopBlock.org, about a hundred groups are listed nationwide, including several in Texas.
Vela is the only member of his charter. He patrols Deep Ellum, downtown, Arlington and Fort Worth, among other areas, on his bike. He carries a camera in case he sees a police officer. He used to create Facebook events and invite others to join him, but no one showed up. So he patrols alone to let cops know they're being watched. He tells his wife to record every interaction she has with police now because "video does not lie."
Along with his informal patrolling, Vela participates in official Cop Block events. At a recent one in Arlington, Vela and Texas Cop Block's Joseph Tye noticed a cruiser speeding. They followed him in their car, tracking the cop's speed with their own speedometer, recording the whole time. The cop's lights and sirens were off. At one point, they were going 55 in a 35.
Tye wants to see the officer face the same penalty a civilian would -- a speeding ticket. Vela and Tye see a double-standard in how punishment is doled out that's a harbinger of a class system. "There are no slaves left in this country," Tye told Unfair Park, "but they want to make it that way."
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Most of the Cop Block people he operates with, Tye said, are "voluntaryists." (Vela hadn't heard of the term before Unfair Park asked him about it.) People who follow this strain of libertarian philosophy believe all human interaction should be voluntary and not forced.
About five months ago, Tye took over the six-member Texas Cop Block. He said they have "families, lives, schoolwork, whatever," but they make time to track officers. To do so, they use police scanners and smart phone apps, such as Waze, which crowdsources traffic information. Tye said people have thanked them for filming, and that the presence of a camera has mellowed officers out. "We're helping everybody," Tye told us. "Unfortunately, the police don't seem to think so."
Some people think cop-blockers oppose the law, Vela said, but he insists he doesn't. He believes in following it to the letter. A legal stop is three seconds, he said, so he waits three seconds at stop signs. "I don't believe in civil disobedience," he told us. "Other copblockers do."
Send your story tips to the author, Sky Chadde.