"Civil rights lawyer in your pocket:" new ACLU app records police

2 years 11 months 2 weeks ago Tuesday, December 23 2014 Dec 23, 2014 Tuesday, December 23, 2014 5:24:00 PM CST December 23, 2014 in News
By: Kelly Skehen, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says police harassment and racial profiling are at an all-time high following the death of Michael Brown.

The Missouri affiliate of the ACLU has released an app it said can combat potential civil rights violations involved in police interactions.

The app, called Mobile Justice, has been in development for a year, but was released early in anticipation of protests following grand jury deliberations on whether or not to indict former police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

"It's for police to know that they are being watched and they are being recorded, so that they know that they can't just harass people or treat people poorly because no one is watching," said Sarah Rossi, the ACLU of Missouri's director of advocacy and policy.

The app has four main features.

Users can record interactions with a police officer by opening up the app and pressing record.

The "Witness" feature alerts other nearby app users when a person is being stopped by a police officer so they can film the interaction.

If a person does not feel comfortable recording encounters with police officers, they can submit a written report after the event occurs.

The "Know Your Rights" section outlines specific rights allotted to citizens under the first amendment. The ACLU of Missouri said it works to make sure none of those rights are violated. 

More than 1,500 people have downloaded the app and the ACLU of Missouri said it has received 1,400 video submissions. Rossi said none of the submissions received so far have been cause for concern.

If the original point of contact within the ACLU finds a questionable submission, he or she would send the video to the ACLU's legal department for further review and contact the person who recorded the video.

The ACLU of Missouri urges people to insert their personal information into the app. Rossi said you can submit videos without attaching your name to it, but having contact information with the video is ideal for the ACLU especially if a civil rights violation is found.

Developers set the app's center point coordinates in Mid-Missouri in order to reach as much of the state possible. The app alerts a user once they have traveled outside the app's geographical reach. 

Rossi said police departments around Missouri have not given positive or negative feedback on the app because it is still new. She said the ACLU of Missouri has received many videos of officers testing out the app.

KOMU 8 News was the first to tell the Columbia Police Department (CPD) about the Mobile Justice app.

The department says it does not have an issue with people using this app to record officers because being on camera is something they are used to. CPD's officers have been equipped with body cameras since July.

"I have not heard of that app, however, we are videotaped all the time. You know if it's somebody's cell phone or it's a business that we go into or going down the street from video surveillance cameras," said CPD officer Latisha Stroer.

She said CPD does not anticipate any issues with this app being used in Columbia. 

"I really don't think it will be any big deal at all. I mean, like I said, we are used to people taking photographs of us or videotaping now and posting it on Youtube or on Facebook, so we're used to that," Stroer said.  

Missouri is the sixth ACLU affiliate to roll out a police-recording app. Mississippi, New York, New Jersey, Oregon and Nebraska have similar apps in place.

Rossi said the app contributed to a 50 percent decrease in stop and frisks in New York City and it is too early to determine the success of the app in Missouri.

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