MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota launched a free mobile app Friday that allows users to record interactions with police officers on their smartphones and submit video to the ACLU if they feel their rights were violated.
But police say the app, called Mobile Justice MN, is troubling because it allows users to notify others when and where they are using the app, which could draw more citizens to an unsafe incident.
“Encouraging people to flock to an unsecure and possibly dangerous police incident is not responsible or logical,” David Titus, president of the St. Paul Police Federation, said in a statement. “The ALCU app may require a larger police presence to deescalate some situations, an outcome neither law enforcement nor the community desire.”
Minnesota was one of 11 states to launch the app on Friday. It’s already available in eight other states.
The ACLU said the app is designed to hold police accountable. Video will be sent to the ACLU and saved, even if the user’s phone is seized or destroyed. The app also allows the user to send an incident report directly to the ACLU.
“The concerns over police practices, including racial profiling and excessive use of force, are very real for communities across the state,” said Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota. “This app will help serve as a check on abuse.”
The ACLU said the app is designed for use by those who are witnessing a police stop or other interaction. The ACLU cautions those who are interacting with police themselves to announce they are reaching for a phone so officers don’t misinterpret their actions.
Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said the app’s alert function could result in citizens showing up at a crime scene and recording victims, witnesses or suspects. He said the presence of unknown citizens could lead victims or witnesses to stop cooperating with an investigation, fearing their identities would be posted on social media.
Teresa Nelson, legal director for the ACLU of Minnesota, said the police officers’ concerns were overblown. She said the app’s notification function has been in place for almost a year in other states and there haven’t been any incidents that have caused concern. Plus, it advises people to maintain a healthy distance when using the app.
“It can be a useful tool to add another set of eyes, but I don’t think it’s going to create mass chaos,” Nelson said.
She also noted that the ACLU is the only organization with access to the video, and certain staffers will review it and flag anything that requires follow up. She said the ACLU doesn’t anticipate it will simply broadcast video that’s collected.
Nelson noted that several police departments use body cameras that could also record victims or witnesses. Minnesota police departments had asked that most body-camera footage be private, but the state Department of Administration said in September that it is public until state lawmakers can come up with body-camera regulations.
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