North Carolina’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union will launch a free smartphone app that will enable people to record and automatically submit cellphone videos when they believe law enforcement officers are violating someone’s civil rights.
State ACLU officials said Tuesday that creators of the app, “Mobile Justice NC,” have similar goals to police departments across the country that are now using body cameras in the wake of protests in Baltimore, Staten Island and Ferguson, Mo., where unarmed black men have died after encounters with officers.
“It’s a tool to help build transparency and to help build trust between communities and the police, “ said NC-ACLU spokesman Mike Meno. “It’s akin to the people’s body camera. It gives us another set of eyes.”
The app allows users to click a link or shake their phones to send a copy of a video to the ACLU office. That way if an officer takes the phone or it gets damaged, the agency will still receive a video record of the encounter.
The state ACLU office receives “hundreds of calls each year from people describing bad encounters with the police,” said Carolyna Caicedo Manrique, an ACLU staff attorney. “But a lot of times there’s no documentation of what occurred. A lot of times, they don’t even know which agency was involved. Was it the police? Was it the sheriff’s office? This will show exactly how the person was treated.”
ACLU officials described the app as a tool that will be used primarily by bystanders who witness citizen encounters with police. Manrique said the ACLU counsels residents to announce to an officer what they are doing before they whip out their cellphones and start filming.
“We don’t want any misunderstandings while you’re using your cellphone,” she said.
The state ACLU’s legal department that reviews written complaints also will review the videos “to see if something is there,” Meno said. “We already review hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints each year.”
The smartphone app also includes a section titled “Know Your Rights” that instructs residents of their rights if they are stopped or questioned by a law officer and an officer’s rights during an encounter with a citizen.
North Carolina is one of six states across the country where local ACLU chapters have launched the app. The other states are California, which first rolled out the program about two weeks ago, as well as Missouri, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska and Oregon.
Meno said the app has been downloaded tens of thousands of times in California since it was introduced there.
Meno said officials with Missouri’s ACLU chapter reached out to the North Carolina chapter and asked if the agency wanted to participate.
“We told them, ‘Yes, we do,”’ Meno said. “Our goal is to see them in as many states as possible.”
The new smartphone app drew mixed reaction among some state law enforcement officials.
“I think it’s a good thing if it serves the interest of justice,” said Peg Dorer, executive director of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.
Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president of the N.C. Sheriff’s Association, had not heard of the new smartphone app but said he thinks that the majority of the videos will show that the officers acted properly, even if a citizen thinks his or her civil rights were violated.
Caldwell noted that the vast majority of encounters people have with law enforcement officers “go flawlessly.”
“The one time an officer gets it wrong, that’s what gets attention,” he said.
Get the app
For more information or to download the app, visit www.acluofnc.org/app.