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(The Root) — Ever witnessed what appeared to be police harassment and wished that you could do something about it? Now you can. On June 6 the New York Civil Liberties Union rolled out its Stop and Frisk Watch smartphone app, a tool that lets bystanders record and report unlawful police encounters.

Since its debut, more than 75,000 people have downloaded it, and thousands of videos have been submitted. "Our staff is monitoring the videos as they come in," NYCLU spokeswoman Jennifer Carnig told The Root. The clips will then become an active part of the organization's campaign to end stop and frisk — the policy in which New York City police can interrogate and search residents without cause. The images will be included in the group's public-education, communications and lobbying efforts and may also be used to litigate cases against officers.


"The NYPD tells New Yorkers that if they see something, say something, and the NYCLU agrees," explains Carnig, whose group is co-organizing a silent march on Sunday to protest stop and frisk. "If people see police misconduct or an inappropriate stop and frisk, we want them to have the tools to say something about it."

The app has three primary functions: "Record" allows users to film incidents with audio and can be stopped by simply shaking the phone. Once filming stops, a brief survey prompts users to report specifics like officer badge numbers and if abusive force or language was used during the encounter. The video and survey then get uploaded directly to NYCLU servers.


"Listen," a particularly useful feature for community groups that monitor police activity, informs users about other incidents occurring in their vicinity that are being recorded by fellow app users. "Report" prompts the survey so that users can submit unrecorded episodes they saw or experienced.

There's even a "Know Your Rights" section that informs people about their rights when confronted by police and their right to film police activity in public. The app, available in English and Spanish, is currently available for Android phones. By July, iPhones users will also be able to download the app.


While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly are quick to credit stop and frisk with the sharp decline in crime over the past decade, the NYCLU vehemently disagrees. According to its reports, the tactic is ineffective. Last year street stops increased 600 percent from Bloomberg's first year in office. Of those who were stopped, 9 out of 10 were innocent — neither arrested nor ticketed — and 87 percent were black or Latino.

In a more sobering analysis, 41.6 percent of 2011 stops consisted of black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24. That demographic represents only 4.7 percent of the city's population. And there were more stops of young black men than there are young black men in New York City.


Just last month a federal judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit filed by stopped victims who allege that the practice amounts to racial profiling. And last week city, state and federal officials from New York made an appeal to the Department of Justice asking the agency to investigate the NYPD's stop-and-search practice, intervene on lawsuits challenging it and aid them in legislation to counter it altogether.

Donna Lieberman, the NYCLU's executive director, expressed hope that the app would empower citizens. "At a time when the Bloomberg administration vigorously defends the status quo," she said in a statement, "our app will allow people to go beyond the data to document how each unjustified stop further corrodes trust between communities and law enforcement."


Julia Chance is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist and the author of Sisterfriends: Portraits of Sisterly Love. Follow her on Twitter.

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