ACLU Releases Cell Phone App to Help Citizens Record Police Brutality

**This article has been updated to reflect a statement released by the Phoenix Police Department.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona has launched a new phone app aimed at helping average civilians record inappropriate law enforcement activity and then safely and properly disseminate it to experts at the ACLU.

The Mobile Justice AZ app has three major features: record, witness, and report.

The record function “allows individuals to capture exchanges with police officers and other law enforcement officials in a file that is automatically sent to the ACLU of Arizona.” The witness function “sends out an alert to anyone with the app, giving the location of a police encounter that is being documented by another app user.” And the report function “allows the user to complete a written incident report and send it directly to the ACLU of Arizona for review.”

It’s the third function that really sets the app apart from normal recording apps: As soon as the video is sent, the app — which is also available in Spanish — prompts users to fill out information about the situation, including the badge number or license plate of the involved officer and the approximate age, appearance, and ethnicity of anyone involved. The user also has the ability to record other circumstantial details or provide a narrative of what occurred.

The app also comes with a “Know your rights” user guide, which helps explain what they should and should not do when interacting with law enforcement in the state.

“Nearly 40 people have been killed by police so far this year in Arizona, and we regularly receive reports of excessive use of force by police and Border Patrol agents,” Will Gaona, policy director of the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement.

“This app is intended to serve as a check on abusive behavior by police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and Border Patrol agents by allowing ordinary citizens to record and document any interaction with law enforcement.”

With the launch of the app, Arizona now is one of 18 states (plus Washington, D.C.) to have the technology. The original app, The Stop and Frisk Watch, was released in New York in 2012 amid criticism from the New York Police Department.

At the time, a spokesman for the NYPD told the New York Times he was worried “that real-time information about the locations of police stops could be used by criminals” and that the app raised privacy concerns if the information got into the wrong hands. (The ACLU is adamant that the video footage it receives is well protected and won’t mysteriously end up on YouTube.)

New Times reached out to Phoenix Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety for comment, and while the DPS declined to comment, PPD Sergeant Jonathan Howard e-mailed the following statement:

"The Phoenix Police Department recognizes that video recording capabilities are everywhere. In fact, we currently have 150 body worn cameras in use and are in the process of adding 150 additional cameras in the near future. Since introducing our body worn camera program, officers wearing the cameras have enjoyed an increase in charging and prosecution of cases, a decrease in complaints against the officers, and an overall increase in civility during contacts between police and citizens. The Phoenix Police Department supports technology that promotes transparency between the Police Department and the people we serve. If citizens wish to capture police contacts on video and share them with others, we encourage them to do so while keeping in mind privacy issues and safety concerns and ask them to ensure the behavior does not hinder lawful investigations.

"The Phoenix Police Department recognizes that this technology has been publicly available for several years through a variety of applications. We will not comment on any particular application people choose to use. "

Download Mobile Justice AZ for iOS 

Download Mobile Justice AZ for Android

**Note: For those who want to record their own interactions with law enforcement, the ACLU reminds them that they “should announce that they are reaching for a phone, and that they are attempting to access the app to record the exchange. Users’ safety depends on their ability to clearly communicate any actions they take and remain calm.”
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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser