The NYPD "stop and frisk" policy is controversial to say the least, with critics raising concerns about racial profiling, illegal stops, and privacy rights. While Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to defend the practice, saying that the city's murder numbers are at a historical low, by the NYPD's own reports, nearly 9 out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent.
While citizens and politicians continue to argue over the legal and ethical ramifications of stopping and frisking, civil liberties campaigners have released a mobile phone program that "will empower New Yorkers to monitor police activity and hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful stop-and-frisk encounters and other police misconduct.”
In other words, if you're looking to document a random police street stop, there's an app for that. The question is, is whipping out a camera while someone's getting frisked really a good idea?
The app, released by the New York Civil Liberties Union for Android (an iPhone version is coming this summer), allows users to record video of a witnessed police stop. The footage is sent to the NYCLU, and users can fill out an "incident report" with the details about what they saw. The app also includes a section listing a citizen's legal rights when stopped by a police officer.
Here's a video on how it works:
I have to say, I'm not sure about the idea of people being encouraged to use this kind of app. I mean, for one thing, how does it make sense to defend privacy rights by recording video of someone in the midst of a potentially embarrassing police stop? As awful as it would feel to be frisked by a police officer for no good reason, I can only imagine that it would be worse to look up and see someone avidly capturing the whole thing on their smartphone.
More importantly, I'm not convinced it's a super wise move to be in the midst of a potentially tense police situation -- and start digging around in your pocket. You know what I'm saying?
The NYCLU says people have the right to record such incidents, and that the app will help them in their "quest for fair and just policing for all New Yorkers":
The NYCLU will use the videos we get to put a face on the humiliating experience of a police street stop, not create a database. The department should be familiar with the First Amendment -- in our society, people have a clear right to document police activity in public places.
It's sad that as a society we feel the need for apps like this, but even with my misgivings about how it might be used, it's reassuring to know that citizens continue to come up with creative tactics to fight oppression. While I'm not convinced this particular app is the best idea, it's fascinating to consider the power shift that can happen via technology.
What do you think of the "stop and frisk" app? Do you think it has the potential to help people?
Image via edeljanin/Flickr