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Civil Liberties Union releases ‘Stop & Frisk Watch’ mobile app

Following a rise in the number of police stops for black or Latino youth in New York, the New York Civil Liberties Union has unveiled a mobile app that will allow users not only to document their own police stop experience, but also submit it to the NYCLU for review. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is in favor of this idea.

To put the perceived need for this app in some context: Last year, a record 684,330 people were stopped and questioned by police in New York City, an increase of almost 600% from 2002, when the stop, question and search practice was launched in the city. The vast majority of those stopped were male – 92% – and African American or Latino (87%), with nine out of ten people stopped having committed no crime. In 2011, the practice generated 1720 complaints to the NYPD, continuing a trend: Since 2005, complaints from stop, question and search accounted for a third of all complaints to the department.

Against that background, the NYCLU today released the Stop and Frisk Watch app in front of police headquarters. According to the New York Post, “Users of the app can hit record to start shooting video if they witness a stop. If they shake the phone, it stops filming, and the video is sent to NYCLU” (The NYCLU says that it will use video to investigate incidents, but information about the sender will not be stored in a database). The app will also allow users to report police incidents that weren’t filmed, as well as locate stop-and-frisks in the nearby area.

The app is the creation of Jason Van Anden, who last year created the I’m Getting Arrested app that allowed Occupy Wall Street protestors to send emergency texts to contacts while being taken into police custody. He described this new app as a “labor of love” that he’s been working on for months.

As might be expected, lawmakers aren’t exactly thrilled with the app. One anonymous law enforcement source is quoted by the Post as saying “Just what we need, somebody telling kids stopped by the police to quickly pull a handheld device out of their pocket.” For its part, NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman told the newspaper that the organization is stressing that people should co-operate with police if stopped, and witnesses should not interfere with whatever is happening in front of them. The app, she went on to say, was intended for witnesses of stops, not those stopped themselves.

The app is currently available for Android devices, with iPhone versions promised later this year.