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Police Misconduct Recording and Sharing App Developed by Bronx Students

By Eddie Small | June 28, 2016 10:19am
 A group of South Bronx students are developing an app called Protect & Swerve meant to help people capture instances of police brutality.
Protect & Swerve
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THE BRONX — Roughly two years ago, 17-year-old Takhim Haque's friends were coming home from a birthday party in Brooklyn when they were stopped by police officers who said they matched the description of people who were causing a disruption in the neighborhood, the rising high school senior said.

His friends were tackled, handcuffed and taken to the police station, and although they were released after their guardians came in and police realized they had the wrong guys, Haque was dismayed by the lack of consequences the officers faced for being so rough with his friends, he said.

"The officers found out that they had the wrong suspects, but nothing really happened [to] them [for] using unnecessary force to apprehend them since there was no evidence," he said. "We wanted to create a platform to prevent these events from happening again."

Haque and his classmates at the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering got their chance to do so at a Code/Interactive Hackathon this winter, where they came up with an app called Protect & Swerve that is meant to help people record and share cases of police misconduct.

"By using this app, you can gather all your videos, all these instances, and have them on hand as evidence," said 18-year-old Joshua Lee, who helped create the app and said he would often see police use excessive force against people while growing up in Harlem.

The app is still in development, and although it is available in the Google Play store, Haque advised waiting to download it for now, as it is still not compatible with all versions of Android and only has its core functions completed so far. They are also still working on making a version of the app for iPhones.

Protect & Swerve will consist of a location tracker to help generate a map showing the rate of police brutality in a user's neighborhood, a game meant to provide teens with facts about police brutality and help them engage with the subject, video uploading for people to record and share incidents of police brutality, and a forum for people to comment on the videos.

Overall, the app is meant to help connect people who have witnessed or experienced police brutality, providing them with one platform to share what they have gone through, Lee said.

"We are creating a community where people can share these and bring this to the attention of higher authority within state government," Lee said. "Show them that this is an actual problem and that there is indeed reform that needs to happen within our police system."

The students hope to have a final version of the app developed by the end of summer and then continue working on it throughout the upcoming school year at the Bronx Academy for Software Engineering as their senior capstone project.

"We have to create something that helps the community out," Haque said, "and we plan on building the fully fledged version of Protect and Swerve basically during our senior year."

Jon Mannion, a computer science teacher at the school, helped supervise the creation of Protect & Swerve and said he was thrilled by the way it came out.

"These guys developed a kind of nuanced approach to police harassment," he said.

Protect and Swerve has already won Haque and Lee a "10 Under 20" award, which are presented to students who develop creative and civic-minded tech projects during CE Week, a consumer electronics and technology event in New York City.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment about the app.

Haque stressed that he and his classmates did not create Protect & Swerve to demonize police officers, saying that most of them are "awesome" and only a small amount commit the type of actions that their app is meant to capture.

"Protect and Swerve is here to solve these issues and educate people so they can take the right steps to the betterment of this country," he said.

The way police interact with minorities has become an extremely contentious issue in New York City and across the United States in recent years, and Lee said he views Protect & Swerve as their contribution to the conversation.

"It’s all one big movement or push for change or reform," he said. "We're just one little part of it."