(NEW YORK) MintPress – “The NYPD are watching YOU, here is your chance to watch THEM,” announced the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) on its website this week after unveiling a new app that it says is giving smartphones a social conscience.
Stop-and-Frisk Watch, explains the NYCLU, will empower New Yorkers to hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful, abusive street stops and other misconduct.
NYCLU Community Director Jennifer Carnig tells MintPress News that it was inspired by Occupy Wall Street and the “I’m Getting Arrested” app, which came out last year. She contacted the developer of that app and together they discussed ways in which they could use technology to help with the issue of racial profiling, one of the group’s top priorities.
The NYCLU has for years been a staunch critic of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, charging that it targets minorities. Its analysis of New York City crime data found that African American and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011, though they make up only 4.7 percent of the city’s population.
How it works
The NYCLU said in a press release that the app, which is available in English and Spanish, has three main functions:
- Record: This allows the user to film an incident with audio by simply pushing a trigger on the phone’s frame. Shaking the phone stops the filming. When filming stops, the user immediately receives a brief survey allowing them to provide details about the incident. The video and survey will go to the NYCLU, which will use the information to shed light on the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices and hold the Department accountable for its actions.
- Listen: This function alerts the user when people in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. When other app users in the area trigger Stop and Frisk Watch, the user receives a message reporting where the police stop is happening. This feature is especially useful for community groups who monitor police activity.
- Report: This prompts the survey, allowing users to report a police interaction they saw or experienced, even if they didn’t film it.
“We will be monitoring the footage and want to use the images and video to shine a spotlight on the stop-and-frisk practice for public education, press outreach, lobbying and potentially even litigation,” explains Carnig.
“The idea is to bring accountability for what it looks like and what it feels like. Ninety percent of the people stopped are totally innocent, just walking down the street. So we want to show what that looks and feels like.”
The app also includes a “Know Your Rights” section that informs people of their rights when confronted by police and their right to film police activity in public.
“Criminals would find the app useful considering the NYCLU’s stated intention of alerting subscribers to where police stops are happening,” said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.
Counters Carnig, “If someone is intent on breaking the law, they’re going to find a way to do it and not act in any way that would provoke police. If they even see police they would go somewhere else.”
Browne also alleged, “In addition to safety issues, the privacy issues are legion…The NYCLU can’t guarantee that the app subscribers’ privacy won’t be compromised.”
“That’s funny coming from the police department,” laughs Carnig. “We will be using video to show what really happens when an innocent person is subjected to such an experience. The NYPD should be familiar with the First Amendment, and in our society we have a clear right to do that.”
She adds, “They are always advising us to ‘say something if you see something.’ We are trying to provide New Yorkers with a tool to do just that.”
The NYCLU is going to make Stop-and-Frisk Watch available to an even wider public with the release of an iPhone version next month.
It developed the app with the help of the visual artist and software designer Jason Van Anden. He explains that he was motivated to make it after seeing police stops in his Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn, the most populous of New York City’s five boroughs.
“I am fortunate to live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York City,” said Van Anden. “I have witnessed the negative impact stop-and-frisk has had on some of my neighbors. 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.”
Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons has already come out in support of the app. “I am encouraged by the technology that the NYCLU has created to protect the young people who are being targeted by the NYPD,” he said. “I hope that all of the recent events will create enough awareness that the general public will force the city to end the abuse of stop-and-frisk in its entirety.”
Next up for the NYCLU: A massive silent march in central Harlem on Father’s Day to call for stop-and-frisk reform.
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