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NYCLU Unveils Stop-and-Frisk App

By Jill Colvin | June 6, 2012 12:13pm
The NYCLU unveiled the new Stop-and-Frisk App Wednesday.
The NYCLU unveiled the new Stop-and-Frisk App Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

NEW YORK CITY — Stopped and frisked by the NYPD? There’s an app for that.

The New York Civil Liberties Union unveiled a new smart phone application Wednesday designed to record stop-and-frisks in progress.

The free "Stop-and-Frisk Watch" Android app, which allows users to record a stop and then automatically send the video to the NYCLU, is aimed at helping the civil liberties group document the experience of being stopped-and-frisked by police.

In addition to recording encounters, users will be directed to a survey to fill in details about the stop, including its location and whether force was used. Users can also access information about other stops happening nearby.

"We're telling New Yorkers, 'If you see something, there's an app for that,'" said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman, who stressed the app is intended to be used by bystanders and community groups that monitor police activity — not people in the act of being stopped.

"Stop-and-frisk watch is not for people who are being stopped-and-frisked while they are being stopped-and-frisked," she said.

NYCLU staff acknowledged that it could be dangerous for the mostly young, black and Hispanic men who are stopped to interfere with police.

"You don't ever want to reach into your pockets when you're being stopped by the cops. They can think that you're pulling out a gun, a knife, any type of weapon," said Candis Tolliver, an organizer with the group.

"It could put you in serious danger," she said.

The app was inspired by Occupy Wall Street protesters who encouraged each other to video arrests, both as evidence for the courtroom as well as a larger public relations campaign that aimed to paint the NYPD as a brutal force.

Steve Kohut, 33, who lives on the Lower East Side and participates in CopWatch, a group that monitors police conduct in Washington Heights, said the app would be an invaluable tool for groups like his and others who might want to get involved.

"Cops think twice when there's a camera on them," said Kohut, who said he's personally been stopped and questioned more times than he can remember, including most recently, outside his building last week.

But some are raising questions about whether the app could lead to more confrontations by encouraging bystanders to get involved in stops and attracting large groups of activists to scenes.

Lieberman said the group will be closely monitoring the app to make sure that doesn't happen, but said she thinks it will have the opposite effect, by giving people feeling powerless an outlet to to voice their frustrations.

"This is providing a safety valve for New Yorkers who feel powerless to stop the police from this abuse," she said. "It's not doing something to stop an incident. But it is documenting. And that helps."

NYPD chief spokesman Paul Browne said the app also raises privacy concerns.

“I doubt they can guarantee that app subscribers' privacy won't be compromised in the process. That's what makes it surprising," Browne said in an email.

“It's one thing when providers learn who is choosing which apps for pizza or movies, but stops or arrests by police?” he asked.

Last year, the NYPD stopped and questioned nearly 700,000 people — a more than 600 percent jump since Mayor Bloomberg’s first year in office, when there were only 97,296 stops.

The vast majority of those stopped are black and Latino young people who are never charged with a crime.

Bloomberg acknowledged Tuesday that the number of shooting victims in the city has remained static, despite the huge increase in stops, which have come under fire from civil liberties and civil rights advocates, as well as many elected officials.

Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly credit the stops for the city's record-low murder rate and say they are the best way to get guns off the street.