The NYPD is one of the most technologically advanced police departments in the world. It’s also infamous for “stop-and-frisk” searches that disproportionately target minority residents. Now, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is using technology to combat the problem. At a press conference outside One Police Plaza, the civil rights organization announced the launch of Stop-and-Frisk Watch, a new smartphone utility that alerts anyone with the app when a stop-and-frisk is taking place nearby… and records audio and video of the encounter.
Stop-and-Frisk Watch is geared to citizen activists and community groups, and the NYCLU stressed that the app is designed to be used by witnesses to police searches–not by the searchees themselves. Here’s how it works: When someone sees a stop-and-frisk taking place they would launch the app and send a report. Anyone nearby who also has the app installed gets notified of the police search taking place. Community members can then record the police, and send the raw data, along with any comments from the scene, to the NYCLU. Information on the legal rights of individuals filming police actions in public is also included in the app.
Unfortunately, the NYCLU did not include GPS capability in the reporting component of the app. Geotagging is only implemented if a video is recorded. Otherwise, users are required to manually enter the location of the police search in progress. This could limit the effectiveness of Stop-and-Frisk Watch given the fact that swift reporting is required if the reporter does not want to attract undue NYPD attention. Reporters are given text fields to inform the NYCLU of the police officer’s badge numbers, names, and other identifying information. But the video or audio is automatically sent to the NYCLU even if the user does not enter any other information.
Information sent to the NYCLU will be kept confidential, but could be used in future litigation or be released to the authorities in the event of a subpoena.
Hip-hop legend Russell Simmons, the Rev. Al Sharpton, the NAACP, and New York’s influential 1199 SEIU labor union have all publicly backed the new smartphone app. The NYCLU will be working with community organizations and local activists to promote widespread usage of Stop-and-Frisk Watch among residents in impacted neighborhoods.
“I have witnessed the negative impact stop-and-frisk has had on some of my neighbors,” says app developer Jason Van Anden, who is best known for developing the I’m Getting Arrested app for Occupy Wall Street protests, which lets arrestees send bulk SMS text messages informing family and friends that they are in police custody. “Racial profiling creates distrust between the community and the police. We need more trust, not less. I hope that this app will help to discourage, and ultimately end, this unfair and abusive policy.”
Stop-and-Frisk Watch is a bilingual English/Spanish app currently available for Android only; an iPhone version will be unveiled in the coming months.
The New York Police Department has gone on record criticizing the app; NYPD spokesperson Paul Browne told the New York Post that the NYCLU wants “to create a database of police stops, including arrests, without privacy guarantees.”