ACLU Offers Police Accountability Smartphone App
By Phil Gregory, WBGO News
July 3, 2012
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is offering a free smartphone application that allows residents to record and store their interactions with police.
ACLU policy counsel Alexander Shalom says most police officers behave properly, but the new app can record discretely -- the phone's screen turns black while working -- to help protect the public from officers who don't.
Shalom says citizens are reluctant to report police misconduct because they don't think they will be believed.
"Who after all would believe a citizen, particularly a citizen with a criminal record, when a police officer gives a varying account of what happened. Here you have the neutral third party, the videotape, to break the tie, to say this is what really happened."
Police officials don't believe this is a big deal. New Jersey Chiefs of Police Association executive director Mitchell Sklar says most police respect people's rights.
"The reality of the modern world is wherever you go almost everyone has a camera and video device already on them on their phone. So everyone should act, whether you're police or not, as if you're being recorded because you probably are."
The ACLU is concerned that police might try to erase the recordings, but Sklar says it's illegal to do that. Even if that was done, he says the recordings can be retrieved forensically.
James Stewart is president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police. He doesn’t have a problem with the app, but he says people need to be careful about reaching for it when about to be stopped or questioned by police.
"To suddenly pull out a small black object out of his pocket or his backpack, and attempt to turn it on and film the police, in a dark situation that action could be mistaken for something else and that could lead to consequences that no one is looking forward to."
The app is available now for Android smartphones on the ACLU's website. An iPhone version is in the works.
© 2012 WBGO News
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