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App records, reports controversial police 'stop and frisk' practice

The NYCLU released an app called "Stop and Frisk Watch."

Believe you are witnessing an unlawful police stop and want to record the moment? There's an app for that, courtesy of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The group released a free smartphone application on Wednesday that allows people to record videos of and report police “stop and frisk” activity, a practice widely denounced by civil rights groups as unjustified stops that they say mostly target minorities and almost never results in an arrest.

The appl was thoroughly criticized by the New York Police Department, which said that the tool might prove useful for criminals.

The “Stop and Frisk Watch” phone app is meant for bystanders watching a police stop, not those subject to it, the NYCLU said. Now available on Android phones, an iPhone version will launch later in the summer. It comes in English and Spanish.

“Stop and Frisk Watch is about empowering individuals and community groups to confront abusive, discriminatory policing,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. “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. At a time when the [Mayor Mike] Bloomberg administration vigorously defends the status quo, 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 recording and report will be sent to the civil liberties group, which will collect the information. One of the app’s three main functions is called “listen,” in which users can learn when and where people around them are being stopped. This would be useful for community groups monitoring police activity, the NYCLU said in a statement.

New York City police stopped and questioned people 685,724 times in 2011, a more than 600 percent increase in street stops since 2002 -- Bloomberg’s first year in office -- when there were 97,296 stops, the group said in a statement. Of that, 87 percent were black or Latino, and nine out of every 10 of the people who were stopped were not arrested or ticketed.

The “stop and frisk” practice has been the subject of many protests in the city, and one of the focuses of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The NYCLU said it developed the app with Jason Van Anden, a Brooklyn-based visual artist and software developer who also created an Occupy Wall Street app, “I’m Getting Arrested.”

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne denounced the app, saying criminals would find it “useful” because it would alert them to where police stops were happening. He also raised concerns about privacy issues and the rights of those being filmed, noting the group was de facto creating a “database of videos of individuals stopped by police.”

“It's one thing when providers learn what pizza or movies you like. It’s another to create a database of stops and arrests by police,” he said in an email statement. “On the plus side, the videos may capture images of suspects in the vicinity of a stop and be helpful to the police in that regard. Presumably, the NYCLU database will the names of the videographers and provide a rich vein of potential witnesses to crimes being investigated by the NYPD and other authorities.”

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