When the picket signs and rally cries vanish from the streets of Ferguson, Mo., a city now known for its racial tensions, it’s unclear how protests will impact relations between law enforcement and citizens.
What’s unmistakable, however, is the call for change. It’s a call heard nationally and one that resonates for a group of technically-minded teens. This week the group, based in Georgia, launched an Android app -- with an iOS app soon to follow -- called Five-O. Similar to restaurant review apps like Yelp, Five-O lets citizens rate and review police and departments. Officer badge numbers, race and gender are coupled with ratings on interactions, general courtesy and whether physical force was used.
The app, first envisioned in February, was accelerated by the recent officer-involved deaths of New Yorker Eric Garner in July, who died in a police chokehold during arrest; and Ferguson resident Michael Brown, who died from six gunshot wounds from an officer in August — both deaths are connected to allegations of racial discrimination. “When we first heard about what happened in Ferguson, it really made us want to rush out our app so people could see that there is a way they can rate their police,” said Caleb Christian, age 14. “When we heard about what happened to Michael Brown, personally, we felt it was tragic.”
The tech team includes Caleb and his two sisters, Ima, 16; Asha, 15; with cheerleading help from their younger brother Joshua, age 10. Motivation for the app came from their parents, who always encouraged them to find answers rather than resort to anger.
“We talked to our parents often about these issues and our parents really tried to put these things in context for us. One of the things they really stress is that we focus on finding solutions,” Ima said.
As a family embedded in tech culture — their mother works in technology operations and the older kids have been exposed to computer science programs since middle school — the team has created a family-run startup called Pinetart Inc., a company that has created three apps since its inception.
Five-O was prompted by Caleb, who after hearing about race-related law enforcement conflicts in the media, suggested the team create an app to help.
“From there we threw all of our ideas on a white board and we started to think of every component that could go into an app like this,” Ima said.
In its current form, the app has a number of features. Users can educate themselves on their rights when interacting with police, create incident reports, dialog with their local community and find local police stations. The features are meant to foster unbiased and honest community dialog that includes commentary from both officers and residents.
“We're looking for a balance of ideals," Asha said. "We want both the positive and the negative feedback,” Asha said.
To support that, the young team reached out to family friends in law enforcement and are in the process of updating their app so police can comment and respond to citizen feedback. Reviews for the app have so far been positive.
"We actually got one comment today from a police officer and he said it's great and it's needed. We really feel, that as a whole, the police officers we've received advice from feel the app is needed throughout society,” Ima said.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.