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Crime & Courts

NYPD critics offer free app to track 'stop and frisk'


The main screen for the NYCLU's "Stop and Frisk Watch" smartphone app. (NYCLU)

Critics of the New York Police Department's controversial stop-and-frisk policy say their new smartphone application will allow residents to monitor and document cops employing the tactic, but police officials say the device itself could be a threat to people's privacy.

“Stop and Frisk Watch” was released for Android phones on Wednesday, and the New York Civil Liberties Union says the free application “will empower New Yorkers to monitor police activity and hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful stop-and-frisk encounters and other police misconduct.”

“It may not be the smartest thing to pull something out of your pocket during a tense situation."

- NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne

“The NYPD’s own data shows that the overwhelming majority of people subjected to stop-and-frisk are black or Latino, and innocent of any wrongdoing," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a written statement. "Our app will allow people to go beyond the data to document how each unjustified stop further corrodes trust between communities and law enforcement.”

The app has three primary functions, the ability to record video and then fill out an “incident report” about what was witnessed, a "listen" function, which sends the user alerts from other app users telling them of incidents in the area and a "report" option that allows users to report a police incident even if they did not record it. The application also provides a section that tells the user their rights when stopped by a police officer.

NYPD officials say this time, it is the NYCLU that could be intruding on people's rights.

“The main problem with this app is privacy regarding the information sent,” NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said to “They [NYCLU] have acknowledged that the app collects the data. What will be done with that information? Will it be sold? Are they aggregating personal information? They can’t guarantee the privacy of the info.”

Browne also expressed the potential dangers posed by someone using the app during a stop or someone in the vicinity of police activity.

“It may not be the smartest thing to pull something out of your pocket during a tense situation,” he said.

The app is recommended only for use by witnesses, not those who are actually being stopped, said NYCLU officials.

"The NYCLU will use the videos we get to put a face on the humiliating experience of a police street stop, not create a database. The department should be familiar with the First Amendment – in our society, people have a clear right to document police activity in public places," Lieberman said in a statement to

The issue of stop-and-frisk, in which police can briefly detain people long enough to ask them what they are doing and ensure they are not carrying weapons, has been the center of heated debate in New York. Opponents claim that the practice is ineffective, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly maintain that it has been successful in keeping illegal guns off the city’s streets.

Recently, however, Bloomberg has eased his stance, admitting that the policy may not have cut down on shootings.

The app was developed by Brooklyn-based artist and software developer Jason Van Anden, who previously created an app during the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement called, “I’m getting arrested.”

A version of the app for the iPhone is expected to be released in July.

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @perrych

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