Ferguson Impressed Urgency of ACLU Police Watch App: Now in Four States, and Expanding

The ACLU has launched an app to help people record police stops and report abuse.
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has launched a Police Watch smartphone app for Android phones.

The Mobile Justice application allows users to take video of police encounters and quickly upload the video to the ACLU’s website. It can also send an alert when a police stop is being recorded by another user nearby, and provides helpful legal information about interacting with police.

“Communities across the nation are facing serious issues like over-policing, racial profiling, the militarization of police, and the excessive use of force,” David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon told Indian Country Today Media Network in early November, before a Grand Jury opted not to indict an officer who shot and killed a teen in Ferguson, Missouri.

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“The ACLU is invested in empowering people with the tools they need to protect their civil liberties,” Fidanque said on November 7. “This week we launched the ACLU Mobile Justice app in Oregon, Missouri, Mississippi and Nebraska—and more ACLU affiliates plan to rollout similar apps soon.”

Fidanque said the app is intended for use by people witnessing a police encounter, not by individuals who are the subject of a police stop.

Portland community leader and Native advocate Jeri Sundvall-Williams (Klamath) believes the app is an important tool to proving the truth.

The last few years have seen such a blatant disregard of justice, that “we should all be in shock. All across the nation, from Portland to Ferguson and everywhere else, we know the truth and have been ignored,” she said.

“Too often, people don’t report police misconduct either because they don’t think they will be believed, or they fear police retaliation,” Sundvall-Williams said. “We must have all the tools necessary to move the scale back to the side of justice. Taking video of a stop can make a huge difference—while it is happening and after.”

Mobile Justice is modeled on the New York Civil Liberties Union’s (NYCLU) successful "Stop and Frisk Watch" app. Since its release in 2012 it has been downloaded more than 30,000 times, and the New York Police Department’s use of street stops has declined by more than half.

Fidanque said the ACLU affiliates began developing the app before the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this summer.

“The events in Ferguson made the need for the app even more urgent,” said Fidanque.

The ACLU’s app has three main functions: Record, Witness, and Report.

RECORD allows citizens to capture the actions of police officers when interacting with other community members in video files (the app does not record audio in some states) that are automatically sent to the ACLU in your state.

The WITNESS function sends out an alert when another user is taking video of a police stop so that community members nearby can move toward the location and also document the interaction.

REPORT gives users the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to the ACLU in your state.

It also has a KNOW YOUR RIGHTS feature that provides an overview of what rights protect individuals when they are stopped by law enforcement officers.

The app is free to download in English and in Spanish in the Google Play store. An iOS version for Apple phones is planned for early next year.