Watching the Watchmen — The NYC Stop and Frisk app.

In addition to protecting and serving, the job of a police officer is to uphold the public’s trust. Due to a recent rash of incidents involving questionable police procedures as well as police misconduct, the public trust of law officials has been called into question. From the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown to broken window searches in Philadelphia, many are questioning the methods of law enforcement, and whether or not these methods are perhaps racially motivated. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has put out a sting of apps designed to monitor and report police conduct in the users area. So far the ACLU has put out apps for various regions most affected by alleged police misconduct, but the first app they released, the New York City Stop and Frisk Watch app has had the most impact.

The NYC Stop and Frisk app was released in 2012 and it aims to keep NYC police officers honest in their duty through empowering individual citizens with the means to record and report civil liberties abuses directly to the ACLU. The app has three main functions to accomplish this. The first feature and arguably the most important is the “record” function. This function allows users to record a police encounter with just one touch of a button on their phone. Once the filming stops the user is presented with a survey they can fill out with details about the incident. Both the video and survey will then go directly to the ACLU for review.

The second function of the app is the “listen” function. When engaged the listen function will alert users when citizens in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. If another app user in the area triggers the record function, the app will send a notification to all users in the area with the listen function engaged letting them know the location of the incident, so that they can go keep tabs on interactions between the police and citizenry. This function is especially useful for community groups who aim to monitor law enforcement activity.

The third function of the app is the “report” function. The report function allows users to fill out the survey that accompanies the record function even if they haven’t recorded the incident. That report will then be sent directly to the ACLU for review. The app also includes a “know your rights” section that lets users know their rights when it comes to interacting with and recording police officers.

As with all apps that are used for recording there is an issue of privacy, namely the privacy of those being filmed, both officers and citizens. In the case of public officials it has been ruled by the Supreme Court that the filming of police officers is lawful and protected under free speech. For a citizen who may possibly be filmed getting arrested it is a little different. While the filming is still technically legal, that individual may be concerned about the footage getting into the public media space and doing damage to their reputation. Unfortunately I could not find any information on how these videos are stored by the ACLU, but judging by the nature of their work I would imagine that the footage is secured and identities protected.

In terms of accessibility there is not much effort in making the app accessible to those who may have disabilities such as loss of vision or hearing, or physical impairments like arthritis, but due to the one button functionality of the record feature, I imagine that it would be easy to use even for those with disabilities.

Works Cited:

Goggin, G. (2006). Cellular Disability: Consumption, Design, and Access. In Cell phone culture: Mobile technology in everyday life. London: Routledge.

Light, A., & Luckin, R. (2008). Designing for Social Justice: People, Technology, Learning. Futurelab.


One thought on “Watching the Watchmen — The NYC Stop and Frisk app.

  1. I really enjoyed reading this essay, as it is relevant to the application that I am looking to create for my own project. I think you made great connections with the articles from class, but it was a little hard to follow without in-text citations. I think you could have elaborated more on possible solutions for making the application more accessible for those with certainly disabilities (hearing impairment for the listen function/ vision impairment for the report function). I think you did a very good job of covering the issues of privacy and surveillance in this essay in terms of those being filmed, but I also think it would have been interesting to talk about some issues of privacy that the user of the application could possibly face (being seen recording/submitting content anonymously). Overall, I think this was a very good essay on the topic.

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