ACLU of California Announces Police Monitoring Application

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: May 4, 2015

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of California has released a new smartphone app that provides users with a video feature designed to record alleged civil rights abuses by police or other government officials.  Mobile Justice CA app is free, and will send all videos recorded directly to an ACLU office where attorneys will review it to determine if a legal claim is appropriate.

ACLU App Designed to Combat Civil Rights Abuses

The Mobile Justice CA app unveiled late last week is designed to allow citizens to monitor the behavior of law enforcement and immediately report potential civil rights abuses to the attorneys at ACLU California offices.  The app comes in response to a number of recent high profile incidents across the country in which police have been accused of injuring or killing members of minority communities with alleged abuse of law enforcement authority.  One such incident last month in South Carolina made headlines because a cell phone user captured video of police shooting Walter Scott, an African American man, while he was running away from the officer. 

In a statement to the LA Times, Hector Villagra, director of the southern California chapter of the ACLU, said the app was designed to keep police behavior in check.  “We want to multiple the number of cameras that can be trained on police officers at any time,” said Villagra, “They need to know that anything they do could be seen by the entire world.”  Senior staff attorney Peter Bibring echoed the organizations intent, “As we’ve seen in headlines over the previous few months, recordings by members of the public is a crucial check on police abuse. We’ve seen a number of examples of high-profile incidents of abuse and unlawful shootings or killings that never would have come to light if someone wouldn’t have pulled out their phone.”

ACLU Police Monitoring App has Many Features

The Mobile Justice CA app is available to both Android and iPhone users, and is free for immediate download.  According to a press release from the ACLU, the mobile app allows users to:

  • Record exchanges with police or other law enforcement officials with video and audio files that are automatically sent to the ACLU for review
  • Send out an alert to other Mobile Justice CA users in the area so they can find the incident and record police encounters that have been reported.
  • Complete an incident report with the ACLU after the event occurred
  • Stay informed on civil rights with a Know Your Rights feature providing an overview of the relevant law in situations when citizens are stopped by police.

According to the ACLU, the app is primarily designed for witnesses to police interactions, but the organization also acknowledges that individuals involved in altercations with police may want to use the feature as well.  The official press release cautions users to warn police they are reaching for a cell phone before attempting to use the app, and encourages everyone to engage in safe and reasonable behavior when interacting with law enforcement officers.

Police Monitoring App Welcomed by Community Leaders

Civil rights leaders across the country have welcomed efforts by the ACLU to increase visibility on police behavior as an effort to curb police abuses, particularly ones that target minority citizens.  Patrice Cullors, director of the Truth and Reinvestment Campaign supported the app, saying, “People who historically have had very little power in the face of law enforcement now have this tool to reclaim their power and dignity. Our vision is that this app will ultimately help community members connect and organize to respond to incidents of law enforcement violence, and then share their experiences and knowledge with others.”

The sentiment has been echoed by other groups across the country, many of which operate in states that have seen similar apps put in place by other chapters of the ACLU.  In Mississippi, close to 280 users have submitted close to 50 videos, while more than 2,500 users in Missouri have contributed 570 more.  These pale in comparison to the close to 40,000 videos that users in New York have submitted since it the app was introduced there three years ago.  As California joins the trend of ACLU chapters releasing smartphone applications designed to monitor police, attorneys and civil rights activists across the country will continue to advocate for increased monitoring of law enforcement activity in an effort to curb alleged abuses resulting in death or injury of minority citizens.

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