From taking photos and filtering them through an array of filters to post on Instagram to scrolling through countless postings on Tumblr to browsing from various boards of interest of Pinterest, apps on the iPhone or Android has become a daily fixture in everyone’s life. Used as the main source of social communication and mindless fun, mobile apps are now becoming a part of another movement. Social apps are now becoming tools for users to become politically active.
Much like Facebook, there are certain apps that you can find within the app store that are geared towards users becoming aware and active. One such app is centered on the recent escalation of stop-and-frisk encounters between civilians and law enforcement.
Although Stop-and-Frisk Watch was created back in 2012, the app is important today considering the current climate in cities where young Latinos and Black Americans are finding themselves constantly harassed by their local police officers.
Created by Brooklyn native Jason Van Anden who original app I’m Getting Arrested was for Occupy Wall Street Protestors to record their arrests, Van Anden designed Stop-and-Frisk Watch for New York Civil Liberties Union so that they compile data on how many stop-and-frisk actions are undertaken by the New York Police Department.
According to NYCLU’s website the app is “is a free and innovative smart phone application that empowers New Yorkers to monitor police activity and hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful stop-and-frisk encounters and other police misconduct.”
With the Stop-and-Frisk Watch app New Yorkers will be able to record video when they see police encounters that may involve police aggression or racial discrimination. Once these police encounters are recorded the video will then go straight into servers manned by NYCLU.
In-addition to recording capabilities, the app allows for users within the same community to find others who have been abused by local law enforcement, come together and help oppose police brutality that may be occurring in their neighborhood. What was once a private and possibly not talked about incident with police officers is becoming more about sharing and exposing the abuse. The app also contains a section entitled “Know Your Rights” which provides the user with a detailed legal description of their rights during police confrontations.
Back in 2012, when the app was first released the NYPD wasn’t all too pleased with the app. According to the department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne the app provided a number of concerns for police officers on duty. Browne described how the real-time information utilized by the app would provide criminals with locations of police stops and allow criminals to act more secretly.
Another concern of Browne was whether the app’s video would end up on Youtube thus violating privacy rights. However, there appears to be set safeguards in the app to avoid such uploads.
Despite the concerns of the NYPD, NYCLUExecutive Director Donna Lieberman believes the app is essential in order to prove that the stop-and-frisk policy—that has been empowered under the administration of New York City’s former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and now being talked about today—is problematic regarding who police officers stop.
“Stop and Frisk Watch is about empowering individuals and community groups to confront abusive, discriminatory policing,” said Lieberman, discussing the importance of the app. “The NYPD’s own data shows that the overwhelming majority of people subjected to stop-and-frisk are Black or Latino, and innocent of any wrongdoing. At a time when the Bloomberg administration vigorously defends the status quo, our app will allow people to go beyond the data to document how each unjustified stop further corrodes trust between communities and law enforcement.”
In Decatur, Georgia, the Christian siblings—Caleb, Ima, and Asha—are three high school students who invented Five-O which is an app that allows users nationwide to hold police officers accountable for their abuse of power. It also aides people in detailing whether the encounter may have been racially-motivated.
Five-O permits users to document and rate their encounter with police officers and discuss the reason behind their encounters. Also, the app allows users to submit their record information to law enforcement which can be used in legal proceedings.
“We’d like to know which regions in the US provide horrible law enforcement services as well as highlight the agencies that are highly rated by their citizens,” explained the oldest sibling Ima for the creation of the app, “In addition to putting more power into the hands of citizens when interacting with law enforcement, we believe that highly rated police departments should be used as models for those that fail at providing quality law enforcement services.”
With the recent events occurring in Ferguson, Missouri after the police-shooting death of Michael Brown and in Staten Island, New York where Eric Garner died due to a choke-hold by police officers, the creation and use of such apps like Stop-and-Frisk Watch could continue to expose the daily incidents that Latinos and Black Americans—Americans all alike—when encountering law officers who abuse their power. The apps could also help police departments possibly change tactics and behavioral discretion among their officers who may rely on racial stereotypes when it comes to stopping people. Making law enforcement agencies aware of their racial tactics could change old methods prevent re-occurrences of past incidents.
Currently there is a lack of information when it comes to the national data regarding police shootings and incidents dealing with racial discrimination between police officers and civilians. Because most police departments tend to be protective regarding complaints filed against their officers this information is hard to get too. Also, when it comes to “excessive force” between an officer and citizen the definition of force used may be debate between civilian and the legal system.
All of this aside, the creation of such apps like Stop-and-Frisk Watch and Five-O are quite disheartening since it may be a tool that could potential save or protect you and your rights from someone who has pursued a career that is supposed to do just that.