CHICAGO — As a black man in Chicago and the son of a law enforcement official, Channing Harris said he's seen both the good and bad sides of police work.
That's why the Near West Side native is developing a Yelp-like smart phone app that allows city residents to report any interactions — good or bad — with police.
The app and website, Excuse Me Officer, will not only allow residents to report police interactions, but will also provide an interactive map of reports filed near the user's location.
The end product will hopefully aid in police "transparency" that will lead to better police-community relations, said Harris, whose mother is a "badged dispatcher" for the Elgin Police Department.
"I want to show the hero cops and the bad cops," he said. "The media wants to focus on the bad story so much that the hero cops get ignored."
Harris and his partners have just won $4,000 in seed funding after coming in first place at South Side Pitch, a contest coordinated by the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship, a law clinic at the University of Chicago's Law School.
"The judges absolutely loved it," he said. "We were the fan favorite."
The idea came to Harris around October 2015, when his good friend, a woman, was severely beaten by an off-duty officer. Her appendix ruptured because of the fight, but she was the only one arrested when officers showed up, Harris said.
The incident gave Harris the idea to start a Facebook page where people could report officer interactions. The Facebook page morphed into the website and app, he said.
Despite having family in law enforcement, Harris said "I still experience the everyday black struggle."
"I've seen cops do some great things and I've seen cops do some shady things," he said.
Exposing police misconduct will help keep officers honest while informing the community about potentially bad cops, Harris said.
His website has uploaded nearly 60,000 official reports claiming police misconduct recorded since 2012, though there's so much data that Harris said he is not sure if it all will go on the app.
Sharing stories of good or heroic police work will show police that the community does appreciate their help. With both elements, Harris said he hopes his app can be a "win-win" for police and the public.
"We want documentation of the really good interactions," Harris said. "If someone does happen to shoot someone on the job, we can look at the data and say, 'Well, is he a good cop or a bad cop?'"
The app will work like this: Users will have a police interaction. They then can upload the date, time and location of the interaction as well as their testimonial. They can also upload video or photo evidence to back up their claim.
The report will then be available for other app or website users to browse. Users will be shown reports filed nearest their location, and they will be sorted by police districts. This way, district commanders can take stock of their officers and make changes, if necessary, Harris said.
Officers' names will not be made public, but users can upload badge numbers for their own record keeping, Harris said.
The reports made on the app do not count as official police misconduct reports, which must be made to the Independent Police Review Authority. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability will soon replace IPRA, though a timeline for its replacement is unknown.
But Harris said he hopes the Chicago Police Department uses the app as a tool to gauge its standing in some communities.
Though the app won't be launched until Dec. 5, the beta version of the website is live and is collecting reports, Harris said.
To gain customers, Harris and his partners had to think outside the box. They visited the Cook County Criminal Courthouse and Jail to introduce the platform to people who've likely had recent interactions with police, he said.
Excuse Me Officer's leadership team includes, from left, Christopher Hutchinson, chief technology officer, Mike Shaw, head of marketing, and Channing Harris, chief executive officer. [Submitted]
But Harris is also reaching out to people who support police and want to see the police-community relationship repaired. His team is hosting an event on Nov. 5 at De La Salle Institute, 3434 S. Michigan Ave., which will serve as marketing event but also a forum for police and the community to interact, Harris said.
"It will allow police to interact with the people their protecting," he said. "We're talking to police about this. We've been getting a lot of positive feedback."
Chicago Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
To make it profitable, Harris will sell ad space on the app, mostly to lawyers. That way, those who have had run-ins with the law will have an idea where to turn for help.
It's all part of Harris's mission to create a profitable business that works toward social progress, he said.
He also said he hopes to take the idea nationwide, but said he chose to launch in Chicago for a particular reason.
"Chicago probably needs it the most," he said. "I don't know if there would be the same amount of passion [in the project] if I didn't know it was so needed here."
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