The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey announced Tuesday, July 3, the release of a new smartphone application called Police Tape. As the name suggests, the application is for covertly recording video of police during a stop or arrest.
The ACLU-New Jersey said the goal of the app is to protect citizens’ rights.
“This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs said in a press release. “Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because citizens don’t feel that they will be believed. Here, the technology empowers citizens to place a check on police power directly.”
The app’s release came two weeks after the death of Rodney King, whose beating in 1991 at the hands of Los Angeles police sparked race riots.
The app is available for Android and waiting for approval from Apple. Video recorded with the phone is automatically uploaded to a secure ACLU server, so police are unable to delete video evidence locally. Additionally the application provides a summary of citizen rights in various situations: in the car, at home, stopped or arrested.
Though the app is intended for New Jersey residents, if the ACLU believes a citizen’s rights were violated, the group would send the footage to the appropriate ACLU affiliate for review, Wired.com reported.
Naturally not everyone thinks the app is a great idea. "I hope that if a police officer is attempting to stop an individual on the street, that person is not suddenly trying to pull a phone from his pocket in an attempt to film a police encounter," president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police, James Stewart, told NJ.com.
The developer of the app, OpenWatch, has created similar apps in the past, including OpenWatch, a generalized version of the ACLU-NJ app, and Cop Recorder. OpenWatch calls it “reverse surveillance.”
Chris Tyminski, president of Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 183, which represents Essex County sheriff’s officers, said an app like this can "blindside" a law enforcement officer but maintained, "We have nothing to hide," reported NJ.com.
"Guys are basically told, conduct yourself as if you’re always being recorded, that’s the safest way," Tyminski said, reported NJ.com. However, he said, it’s unfair when groups like the ACLU "judge a life or death split second decision that a cop makes, when they have days and days and roundtables to discuss what a cop should have done in those three seconds."