Using Online Citizen Tools For Police Surveillance

Police standoff in Ferguson

The deaths of Michael Brown and John Crawford have opened up a new discussion about the thin line between police action and citizen’s rights and especially the rights of black and Latino males.  A ProPublica report shows that black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than their white counterparts. Forty-one American teens 14 and younger of all races were killed by the police between 1980 and 2012; 27 were black and 4 were Latino.

There has also been a growing demand for police officers to wear body cameras.  But what can citizens do to watch the police?  Legally, Americans in all 50 states can record police actions, so long as you are not interfering in the police procedure, although some police say otherwise.   Even when you do record the police, if the footage is lost, destroyed, stolen or taken away by the police, you no longer have reliable evidence to help support your defense.

A few web developers have been working on ideas to better empower citizens.

I’m Getting Arrested

i'm getting arrested

This free app allows users to simply send a mass text letting others know that they are getting arrested.  This app development was inspired by a real Occupy Wall Street protest incident.

Stop and Frisk Watch

The same guy who developed “I’m Getting Arrested” developed this app too.  A couple of years ago, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) launched this free app to allow New Yorkers to monitor police activity.  It has three simple functions – Record, Listen and Report.  It will record an incident and immediately send it to the NYCLU immediately.  It will “listen” or find the phone’s GPS location and tell other users and send a text message when people in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. Report allows the user to describe the encounter they witnessed also in a text message.  There are English and Spanish language versions of the app available for both the iPhone and Android.



This app is still in development by a group of Georgetown University students who were inspired by the recent Ferguson protests.  It allows the user to make police reports without having to deal with the intimidation of going into a police station, record an incident that can be saved in a cloud server and learn about their rights in their municipality.  If you are a U.S. citizen and want to have a say in the app’s development, take their survey here.

Posted in Accountability/Transparency, Americas, Tech Life and tagged , , .

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