July 5, 2012 at 5:21 PM ET
In 2010, a 16-year old filming a police interaction on aNewark, N.J. city bus found herself removed from the bus, handcuffed and taken toa detention facility (firsta juvenile one, then an adult facility).
Khaliah Fitchette's crime? Nothing.
Officers, called to the bus after apassenger fell from his seat, asked the University High School junior classpresident to turn off her phone, and when she refused, took her into custody. Eventually,police released Fitchette, but not before the erasing the footage from hercellphone and, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), violating her First and Fourth Amendmentrights.
This week, ACLU-NJ released Police Tape, a free app that recordsvideo and audio "discreetly,disappearing from the screen once the recording begins," according to theapp description. Made by app developer Open Watch, Police Tape also includes legal information about citizens' rights when interacting with the police.
Since Fitchette's arrest, and in the wakeof Occupy protests throughout the United States, reports increased about citizens being prevented from filming police interactions, and police confiscating phones andcameras and destroying the footage. Such police actions violate unlawfulinterference with, restraint of and retaliation against free speech (First Amendment)and freedom of expression, and unlawful seizure (Fourth Amendment).
Last month, the New York CivilLiberties Union released Stop and Frisk, a similar free cellphone app meant forbystanders watching a police stop, not for those who are experiencing it. The appsends the recording and report to the civil liberties group, and shares thelocation of the police stop with users, as well as community groups.
Similar to Stop and Frisk, PoliceTape for Android records video and audio, and "in addition to keeping a copy on the phoneitself, the user can choose to send it to the ACLU-NJ for backup storage andanalysis of possible civil liberties violations."
"This app provides an essential toolfor police accountability," said ACLU-NJ executive director Deborah Jacobs saidin a statement. "Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreportedbecause citizens don't feel that they will be believed. Here, the technologyempowers citizens to place a check on police power directly."
In an interview with The Star Ledger, ChrisTyminski, longtime president of Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 183,which represents Essex County sheriff's officers, expressed mixed feelingsabout ACLU-NJ's Police Tape app:
"Guysare basically told, conduct yourself as if you're always being recorded, that's the safest way," he said. However, he said, it's unfair when groups likethe ACLU "judge a life or death split second decision that a cop makes,when they have days and days and roundtables to discuss what a cop should havedone in those three seconds."
Police Tape is currently available for Android from at aclu-nj.org/app and through the Android app market, now called Google Play. An audio version for iPhones is scheduled for release later in July. ACLU-NJ explains how Police Tape works in the following video.