'Officer Awareness' Memo: Police Accountability Recording App Could Lead To Dangerous 'Flash Mobs'

from the and-they'll-be-armed-with-cameras!!! dept

Your law enforcement panic of the day: an app that automatically uploads recorded footage and forwards it to the ACLU. (h/t to Dave Maass.)

New Jersey's ACLU branch put together "Police Tape" back in 2012, an app which allowed anyone to record cops with a press of a button. The app then hid itself while the recording continued. If the recording was interrupted, the app would automatically send the recording to the ACLU. The app also advised those confronted by cops of their rights in various situations.

The app is apparently no longer available, but ACLU-NJ reported 30,000 downloads within the first few months of its availability. Widespread coverage of this police accountability app led to a somewhat overwrought response from (of all places) the Burbank, California Police Department.

"OFFICER AWARENESS," the bulletin yells, before heading into a brief summation of the app's capabilities. It takes a turn for the truly absurd when Lt. Eric Deroian attempts to portray the app as potentially dangerous to officers.
Both apps [including the "stop and frisk" app developed by ACLU-NY] will notify other app users within a defined area if someone has activated their app, with the exact location of the police action. This may result in officer safety issues if community groups are able to pinpoint various police actions, and respond to the location in the form of a flash mob.
First off, let's deal with the why of this app's existence. It is only because officers have routinely (and illegally) confiscated, shut down or deleted recordings from civilians' cell phones that an automatic archival process is needed. Despite being told repeatedly by judges, the DOJ and their own internal policies that citizens have the right to record police officers in public areas, many cops still seem to believe this isn't actually a right but a privilege completely subject to any recorded officer's willingness to oblige.

Because cops doing bad things hate to be held accountable for their actions, they often turn on those recording their actions. And because officers have power, weapons and the benefit of a doubt eternally on their side, it's usually pretty easy to shut down recordings. The tide is slowly turning, but civilians are still severely limited in their options when confronted by a cop who doesn't want to be recorded.

That's why apps like these even exist, and cops have only themselves to blame for this situation.

Now, let's address the inadvertent hilarity of the "flash mob" claim. Even if there were enough people with the app installed in the area, it's highly unlikely a coordinated (and apparently threatening) response would be mounted. The thing about successful flash mobs is that they're usually coordinated ahead of time. The best ones are, anyway. There are some that gel unexpectedly, but flash mobs usually require participants to be at least a little prepared.

Being suddenly alerted about some unexpected police bullshittery isn't generally going to provoke anything more than additional cameras and angry voices. I've seen tons of police video captured by citizens and I have yet to see crowds physically attack officers no matter how much of a beatdown they're putting on some unlucky individual. A lot of yelling and swearing? Yeah. But nothing more "threatening" than that. Even when a cop is choking the life out of someone, everyone stands a few feet away and hurls nothing more dangerous than epithets and criticism.

Here's the other thing: You know who else can "notify [others] in their area" and "pinpoint various police actions?" Cops. And their "flash mobs" usually arrive at high speed with sirens blaring, and armed to the teeth with a variety of lethal (and slightly less-lethal, depending on application) weapons. This "mob" has the force of law behind it, as well as a large number of options citizens don't have -- like departments and unions willing to justify nearly any amount of misconduct, as well as various levels of legal immunity should the "police action" result in a civil lawsuit. They'll also be acting out of "fear for their safety," so the occasional kidney punch/emptied gun magazine will be almost instantly forgiven. All the unfriendly citizen flash mob has is… well, their voices and their cameras. Nothing like bringing a Galaxy 4 to a gun/Taser fight.

Bottom line: there's nothing to fear from police accountability apps like these except the accountability. This is what Lt. Deroian's warning is really about. He closes it by noting that a "suspect" had the app installed on his phone, but leaves the details of this person's crime wholly up to the overactive imaginations of the officers reading this "alert."

A better "Officer Awareness" memo might have addressed the fact that citizens have a right to record and that patrolling OFFICERS should be AWARE their actions have a good chance of being recorded, so try not to violate too many rights/beat down too many "suspects." And be careful out there.

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  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 8:24am

    Copy edits

    Two edits, Lt. Deroian:

    • "... secretly record police activities without the probability of the mobile device being seized." Make that "illegally seized".

    • "It would appear this app may be available nation wide." Add: "... so be on your best behavior, and don't beat or shoot someone unless you really have to."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:41am

      Re: Copy edits

      • Add: "And remember to confiscate any recording devices in the area *before* you go off on your victim."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    KitKat, 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:51am

    "It would appear that this app may be available nation-wide."

    I didn't know the internet could cross state lines!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:00am

    Anybody know...

    ...what happened to the app?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:23am

    Why should they care, unless they have something to hide?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:39am

    That word "civilians"

    You legitimize their us-vs-them mentality when you foolishly choose the word "civilian" vs the correct term "citizen."

    You damage your own cause Techdirt, change your language before it damages our minds like the doublespeak of old.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:02am

      Re: That word "civilians"

      No, "civilian" is correct.

      Just because someone doesnt carry their "citizen papers" on them at all times, and show them to a peace officer when demanded to do so, does not make them any less of a "civilian."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:17am

        Re: Re: That word "civilians"

        Civilian implies person not in the armed forces. This is a term used exclusively (legally speaking) in combat zones. You are a citizen, we are citizens of the USA. As far as I can tell the US government hasn't legally declared war on us as much as it feels like.

        The more we call ourselves Civilians, the more we legitimize what amounts to collateral damage. We aren't though, we are citizens with inalienable rights that must be upheld above all else and long before their ability to do their job more easily is a factor.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:24am

          Re: Re: Re: That word "civilians"

          You do know that within the united states, a person can be in the borders of it without being a "citizen" of it. People visiting from countries do it all the time.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:25am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: That word "civilians"

            And we have a word for those people, they are called denizens.

            Stop calling them civilians you fool.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:43am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: That word "civilians"

              He has a point. A civilian is a member of the civil population whether or not that person is a citizen or not. Are you implying that only legal citizens have the right not to be abused by the police?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:49am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: That word "civilians"

              Civilian is the correct distinguishing term in this case. Police are citizens and denizens, but they are not civilians.

              You can't have distinguishing words if one word is a subset of the other. It's like the PC vs. Mac argument. Macs are a subset of personal computers.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 2:21pm

          Re: Re: Re: That word "civilians"

          Civilian ... is a term used exclusively (legally speaking) in combat zones. ... As far as I can tell the US government hasn't legally declared war on us as much as it feels like.
          I think that's why many of us use the term civilian. It's not being used in a legal sense, it's being used in a rhetorical sense. The police often act like an occupying army, and the word "civilian" conveys this perception. Restricting casual discussion to the rigid constraints of legal or scientific discourse destroys the poetry of language.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 3:06pm

          Re: Re: Re: That word "civilians"

          "As far as I can tell the US government hasn't legally declared war on us as much as it feels like."

          That means nothing. The last time the US actually "declared war" was World War II. They don't declare war, they just wage it.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 3:53pm

          Re: Re: Re: That word "civilians"

          "Civilian implies person not in the armed forces. This is a term used exclusively (legally speaking) in combat zones."

          Um, what? The military doesn't stop being the military just because it's not a combat zone. Similarly, non-military (that is, civilians) don't stop being civilians just because it's not a combat zone.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 9:03am

          I take you realize those "inalienable" rights end at the barrel of a police officer's service handgun.

          You can talk about rights all you want, but it's established that if you don't do whatever an officer says and pronto, he can gun you down and leave you to die in the street for hours (a punitive tactic favored by the SS) so you can watch your rights drain away with your lifeblood into the storm drain.

          Rights should technically have nothing to do with citizenship. The United Nations Charter on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention each list extensive rights that should be afforded to every human being, regardless of citizenship, and yet only a portion of them are recognized by the United States and are afforded only to those who are established citizens and only when it is convenient agents of the government to do so.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Nicci Stevens (profile), 19 Mar 2015 @ 5:21pm

          Re: Re: Re: That word "civilians"

          So if I am visiting from UK or elsewhere I have no rights only those with natural or naturalized citizenship? This is a good distinction, sir, as I will inform any potential visitors from abroad ahead of time they have no rights. (that does sort of make these inalienable human rights alienable.)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 12:53pm

      Re: That word "civilians"

      I think civilian vs terrorist is better

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 10:46am

    Lt. Eric Deroian earns over $200k a year to write this trope.

    http://www.burbankca.gov/home/showdocument?id=24811

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coises (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:03am

    Deeper Problem

    Both apps will notify other app users within a defined area if someone has activated their app, with the exact location of the police action. This may result in officer safety issues if community groups are able to pinpoint various police actions, and respond to the location in the form of a flash mob.
    I.e., If the community were to know where we are and what we’re doing, they might join forces and attack us.

    Have police become so accustomed to thinking of themselves as an occupying force—rather than as community servants—that they don’t even see the problem with that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:48am

      Re: Deeper Problem

      I like to call it a 'self-fulfilling prophecy', and it goes like this:

      1. Police are trained to see everyone around them as potential threats and enemies.
      2. In response to this trained paranoia/'Us vs Them' mentality, police treat everyone around them as potential threats and enemies.
      3. The public, upon being treated as potential threats and enemies, ceases to be on the side of the police, and instead see and treat them as likely threats and enemies.
      4. The police, now being treated as they treat those around them, use this to justify their training/mentality, and further enshrine it in their training and how they act.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 2:31pm

        Re: Re: Deeper Problem

        I'd call it more of a "Perpetual Authority Machine." It's also a disturbingly popular design pattern.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:17pm

      Re: Deeper Problem

      why else would they resort to using the phrase "don't make me fear for my life" as a threat to commit violent murder on a person.

      don't record me or I will make up an excuse that gives me the right to murder you. Its more of a sociopath than someone that sees themselves on the front lines.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 2 Mar 2015 @ 11:48am

    Neither "Civilian" nor "citizen" is completely accurate. The correct term should be "the person that pays your salary".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PoliceScanner, 2 Mar 2015 @ 12:40pm

    Dolts

    OFFICER AWARENESS:
    Your radio [including your "partners" radio provided by the police department ] will notify other radio users/listeners within the broadcast area if you use it, this might include your description of the exact location of the police action. This may result in officer safety issues if community groups are able to pinpoint various police actions, and respond to the location in the form of a flash mob.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 12:55pm

    Flash mobs have rescued people from the police before

    http://boingboing.net/2008/09/03/security-guards-beat.html
    See how that dangerous perpetrator got away?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 1:18pm

      Re: Flash mobs have rescued people from the police before

      Security Guards are not deputized police officers. Thus they don't enjoy the same immunities that deputized police officers enjoy. Depending on jurisdiction security guards don't even get to possess firearms.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 2:37pm

    I have a cunning plan...

    A flash mob dancing to I Predict a Riot by the Kaiser Chiefs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2015 @ 5:24pm

    they dont want the competition

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 2 Mar 2015 @ 9:13pm

    exposing dirty cops led to the NYPD requesting machine guns to deal with all those dangerous cameras.


    Obviously the patriotic thing to do is follow the model of the average citizen in Nazi Germany. Keep your mouth shut eyes down and believe everything your told. the police are your friends, they are there to help you. They only go after criminals, if you see something say something.

    If you suspect your friends, family or neighbours of deviant thoughts report them to your local thought crime station.

    If you see anyone exposing police crimes they are dangerous and must be locked away before they infect you with their dangerous ideas.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 3 Mar 2015 @ 3:30pm

      Re:

      Obviously the patriotic thing to do is follow the model of the average citizen in Nazi Germany.

      It's disturbing that the way you mixed together Nazi Germany, 1984, and the DHS works so well.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2015 @ 9:30pm

    I think this article is very well written. I especially enjoyed the part about bringing a Nexus 4 to a gun fight. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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