Privacy

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
police, recordings, transparency

Companies:
aclu



Law Enforcement Responding More Favorably To ACLU's Recording App, But Some Still Think It Will Make Policing More Dangerous

from the older,-but-no-wiser dept

The ACLU has released three more state-specific versions of its "Mobile Justice" app. The app, which sends audio and video recordings directly to the ACLU's servers to preserve them in case of any law enforcement "interruptions", is now available in Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia.

This time around, the panic surrounding the apps seems to have subsided somewhat. Back in 2012, the release of a New Jersey-based app for recording police encounters resulted in a California police department's speculation that the app's ability to notify other users would lead to officer-endangering "flash mobs."

Perhaps the inevitability of being recorded has finally sunk in. There's no shortage of footage of police interactions available and the addition of the ACLU's app isn't going to cause a spike in citizen recordings. With many photo and video apps already synced to cloud storage, attempts to delete incriminating footage will be unsuccessful in many cases.

For the most part, law enforcement representatives and officials are greeting the new releases with shrugs, if not open acceptance.

In Virginia, sane comments greeted the ACLU's announcement.

“I certainly don’t have a problem with it,” said Chesterfield County Police Chief Thierry Dupuis. “The vast majority of our police officers do a great job. If for some reason we have an officer that isn’t, we want to know about it,” said Dupuy.

But Dupuis says if you are going to use the app, record positive police interactions too, and don’t leave anything out.

“If you’re going to film, include the entire video,” said Dupuis.
In Maryland, where Baltimore law enforcement officials are blaming the city's climbing murder rate on the "Ferguson Effect," reactions are still mostly positive.
"Maryland state troopers are held to a high standard of accountability for their actions in the performance of their duties. Our troopers understand the importance of video and welcome the opportunity to display their professionalism during interactions with the citizens we serve," Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said.

Baltimore County police released a statement, saying: "The Baltimore County Police Department respects citizens' right to record. Citizens record us every day. This application does not change our practices."
Another Maryland law enforcement agency actually welcomed the additional accountability the app could bring.
47 ABC showed the app to Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis and he doesn't see a problem with it at all.

Sheriff Lewis continues, “Anything I can do better professionalize the Wicomico County Sheriff Office and our profession, I'm all for it. I don't want rogue police officers working for me.”
Minnesota law enforcement officials, however, seem to be pulling their talking points from 2012's "flash mob" memo. Well, more specifically, certain law enforcement-related officials are taking issue with the ACLU's app. The regular police -- as in law enforcement agencies and not law enforcement officers' putative representatives -- seem to have no problem with the new app.
The Minneapolis police department wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the app, but spokesman John Elder said in a statement that officers are already accustomed to working under surveillance from cell phones and public or private cameras. He also noted that the city is in the process of rolling out a police body cam program, expected to begin early next year, which will provide more visual evidence of how police interact with the public.
It's the police unions that view the ACLU's "Mobile Justice" app as a threat to officers.
“If you create a crowd, it is possible that the crowd could turn on an officer,” said Andy Skoogman, spokesman for the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. “The mere presence of the crowd could easily make the officer feel intimidated which can quickly increase the tension of the interaction. We have seen such a scenario play out many times.”
Yes, it's the old "flash mob" argument. The app only notifies other users of the app who happen to be in the same area, and the ACLU's app isn't exactly Candy Crush. Chances of the app producing an antagonistic crowd of any size are slim-to-none. Chances of a police interaction in a public area resulting in a crowd not entirely aligned with law enforcement remains at nearly 100%. So, officers should be used to dealing with antagonistic crowds as it's routinely part of the job. That the union would preemptively excuse an "intimidated" officer's reactions is telling.

But it gets even dumber. Another police union spokesman echoed Skoogman's ridiculous assertion.
“It will almost certainly create public safety issues,” said St. Paul Police Federation President David Titus, in a statement. “Encouraging people to flock to an unsecure and possibly dangerous police incident is not responsible or logical. … The ACLU app may require a larger police presence to de-escalate some situations, an outcome neither law enforcement nor the community desire.”
Once again, it's highly unlikely the app will draw a crowd larger than any such public scene would. But the St. Paul Police Federation isn't limiting itself to these paranoid theories. It's contemplating asking the courts to block the app.
The Saint Paul police officers union is looking into whether legal action is possible against the American Civil Liberties Union for a new smartphone app that notifies subscribers of in-progress police actions, so they can witness whether civil rights are being violated.
I'm going to hazard a guess that, while any legal action is theoretically possible, very few of them have a chance at successfully preventing the distribution of the app. The app records video and uploads it to a server -- something countless other cellphone camera apps do already. Cellphones are also communication devices, which means any of them could be used to notify others of an ongoing situation. Other social media apps have a far greater reach than the ACLU's app, which limits notifications only to those with the app installed on their phones, and provides the users with the option to limit notifications to only certain people, like close friends or family members.

At the heart of the matter is the recording of police officers performing their public duties, something most courts have agreed is protected First Amendment activity. It's going to be tough to convince a judge that any fears for officer safety or the privacy bystanders, witnesses, etc. trumps the Constitution. Not that this will necessarily stop the union from blowing its members' money on ridiculous lawsuits. Hopefully, if it does choose to pursue litigation, its members will realize the union really doesn't speak for them and is only interested in walling off law enforcement from the public and ensuring its worst members don't lose their positions or power.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 6:44pm

    So can we pursue court action to block unions from commenting on cases involving their members as it might cause more officers to flock to the defense of that officer creating a situation where they might be so afraid they just shoot everyone around?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 7:27pm

    Perhaps it is time for law enforcement to get their shit together and start obeying the laws they are sworn to enforce.

    Yeah - not gonna happen

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 7:59pm

    The mere presence of the crowd could easily make the officer feel intimidated which can quickly increase the tension of the interaction. We have seen such a scenario play out many times.
    Replace "officer" with "anyone", and you have the definition of a SWAT team.

    On the positive side, I'm sure that 90% of the LEOs out there are secretly thrilled that the rest of us are coming up with ways to start weeding out their asshole coworkers.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 8:44pm

      Re:

      On the positive side, I'm sure that 90% of the LEOs out there are secretly thrilled that the rest of us are coming up with ways to start weeding out their asshole coworkers.

      Highly unlikely. If they cared about removing the rot from within their ranks, they've had decades to do it. They haven't, which is one of the reasons such recording apps have been popping up, in an attempt to address the fact that police have shown no interest in holding their own accountable, which means if the public wants it done, they have to do it themselves.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 9:04pm

        Re: Re:

        Oh, the "good cops aren't good cops if they're covering for bad ones" perspective is totally valid, and I agree that it still applies here. They don't necessarily have the will or desire to do it themselves (especially when they see what happens to those few who do try), but a lot of cops probably won't mind the bad ones getting yanked.

        Imagine how hard it must be to keep cover stories straight and to have to continually lie in court just so a psycho can get his jollies. Even cops must occasionally worry that the odd judge or pissed off reporter might decide to actually look into things a little too deeply one day.

        So, maybe "thrilled" was poor word choice. Better to say 'relieved'.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2015 @ 12:05pm

        I respectfully disagree.

        WHile I've never been a LEO, I have worked in similar situations. The opportunity to get rid of bad co-workers, without being tarred as a traitor, is welcome. The group pressure not to squeal is immense. Nevertheless, the public should lead this charge for that very reason.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Blowhard, 22 Nov 2015 @ 1:51pm

        Re: Re:

        It's extremely difficult to be the odd man out and turn in your coworker even if everyone thinks they're an asshole. It's unfortunate but that's the way it is. So it wouldn't surprise me at all if 90% or more were positive about having a way to get rid of them. It turns out that fewer than 10% are generating all the complaints.

        "Highly unlikely. If they cared about removing the rot from within their ranks, they've had decades to do it. They haven't, which is one of the reasons such recording apps have been popping up, in an attempt to address the fact that police have shown no interest in holding their own accountable, which means if the public wants it done, they have to do it themselves."

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 10:50pm

    The ACLU app may require a larger police presence to de-escalate some situations

    In other news, the US has announced it will send additional troops to Syria in an effort to de-escalate the situation. And Pakistan has just announced that in the interests of continued peaceful interactions with India, they will be placing additional nuclear warheads on standby.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2015 @ 12:25am

    The police are pissed because now they are being held 'accountable' for their actions, and the photos/videos can't just be deleted by the same system that's trying to protect them.

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

  • identicon
    alternatives(), 21 Nov 2015 @ 1:44am

    Microphones/earpices that work along with a recording app?

    The dark suit, fedora, white shirt and dark tie part of the setup - that I got covered.

    But the rest of this, need a pointer on.

    Under the ADA people with a hearing problem have a right to accommodations. So where is the app for phones that can call a number to transmit audio AND record a copy to the phone as an encrypted file with a pre-known OTP?

    And, where can one get a working earpice/mic setup with the clear earpiece with a clear hollow curled tube which will actually work in a cell phone jack?

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

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 21 Nov 2015 @ 9:15am

    Anti-Cop Squads roam the streets....

    Well, actually, the Police Union fears are well founded - in fantasy.

    After all, the hordes of fantasy police assassins now roaming the streets of fantasy America, who are fantasy killing cops left and right, will obviously tune into such "notification apps" and swarm any reported area of police activity, armed with their fantasy police-killer weapons, in the thousands.

    Police officers would be foolish to even leave the safety of their vehicles in such a fantasy future.

    ---

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

  • identicon
    Peter, 23 Nov 2015 @ 5:42am

    Well it's obvious isn't it?

    The police should welcome recording, whether by individuals or in crowds. Why?

    Well if the crowd are recording what they dont like, they feel they are doing something. That is bound to decrease tension as they are less likly to resort to violence.

    Secondly, if you have a phone in your hand, then you don't have in your hand, by definition, a gun, knife or rock.

    How is that NOT making the police feel safer?

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

    • icon
      GEMont (profile), 24 Nov 2015 @ 12:44pm

      Re: Well it's obvious isn't it?

      "How is that NOT making the police feel safer?"

      Perhaps because the real fears of the cops are not for their personal safety, but for continued secrecy and political protection of their normally hidden activities during their interactions with the public.

      Perhaps the cops are far more concerned about exposing what they actually do to the people they pretend to serve, then they are about how the cops are treated by the public.

      Perhaps what is at stake here, is the ability of police to do horrid, immoral and illegal things to the members of the public, without wide spread public awareness, media disclosure, or fear of prosecution for their criminal actions, but because they cannot actually admit to these atrocities against the public, they have instead created a false "fear of public assault" campaign, in the press and on TV, to trick the general public into believing that cops lives are in danger, from those wielding cameras.

      Perhaps this whole thing has nothing whatsoever to do with the safety of heavily militarily-armored police with half-track vehicles and assault weapons, and a whole lot to do with the lack of safety of unarmed and unprotected civilians - and the fact that the police want things to stay just the way they are now.

      Just a guess.

      ---

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


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