NEWARK – Citizens can hold police accountable in the palms of their hands with “Police Tape,” a smartphone application from the ACLU of New Jersey that allows people to securely and discreetly record and store interactions with police, as well as provide legal information about citizens’ rights when interacting with the police. Thanks to the generosity of app developer OpenWatch, the ACLU-NJ is providing Police Tape to the public free of charge.
“This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “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.” In light of the frequency of altercations between citizens and seasonal police at the shore, the ACLU-NJ released the App in time for the July 4th holiday.
The Android “Police Tape” app records video and audio discreetly, disappearing from the screen once the recording begins to prevent any attempt by police to squelch the recording. In addition to keeping a copy on the phone itself, the user can choose to send it to the ACLU-NJ for backup storage and analysis of possible civil liberties violations.
A version awaiting approval from Apple will be available later this summer in the App Store for iOs to audio record encounters with police.
The popularity of cellphones with video capabilities has raised legal questions about the rights of citizens to record in public. Fortunately, the courts have sided with citizens. In May 2012, a federal appeals court struck down an Illinois law that had made it illegal for citizens to record police officers on-duty. Also in May 2012, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice released a letter affirming the constitutional rights to record the police in public. These two developments came on the heels of a landmark ruling in August 2011, which recognized the right of citizens to record police officers after a Massachusetts man in Boston Common was wrongfully arrested for filming an interaction with a police officer.
“Historically, vivid images of police mistreating citizens have seared our public consciousness and in some cases spurred important changes,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “Photos and video are critical to ensuring police accountability and police should know that the eyes of the public are on them at all times.”
The “Police Tape” app is available for download at http://www.aclu-nj.org/yourrights/the-app-place/. A how-to video created by the ACLU-NJ shows Lady Liberty as she goes through each step of the app as she records and uploads her own run-in with police. The New York Civil Liberties Union released a similar, New York City-specific app to target “stop and frisk” searches by the New York Police Department in early June.