ACLU-NJ Releases Apple Version of Police Accountability App

September 26, 2012

‘Police Tape’ app for recording law enforcement encounters now available for both Apple and Android devices

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CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEWARK – New Jersey residents with Apple devices can now hold police accountable in the palms of their hands, with a newly released Apple version of “Police Tape,” a smartphone application from the ACLU of New Jersey. A version for Android was released in July. Police Tape allows people to securely and discreetly record and store interactions with police, as well as better understand their rights during police interactions. 

Thanks to the generosity of app developer OpenWatch, the ACLU-NJ is providing Police Tape to the public free of charge.

“This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” said acting ACLU-NJ Executive Director Ed Barocas. “Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because citizens don’t feel that they will be believed. Here, the technology empowers citizens to place a check on police power directly.” 

The iOS “Police Tape” app, which works on iPhone and iPad devices, records audio discreetly, disappearing from the screen once the recording begins, which prevents any attempts by police to squelch the recording. In addition to keeping a copy of the audio recording on the phone, the user can choose to send it to the ACLU-NJ for backup storage and analysis of possible civil liberties violations.

More than 35,000 people have downloaded the Police Tape app since it was released in July. The app is intended for use in New Jersey where the law allows citizens to record the actions of police officers in public, even without their knowledge.

The popularity of cellphones with recording capabilities has raised legal questions about the rights of citizens to record in public. Fortunately, the courts have sided with citizens. In May 2012, a federal appeals court struck down an Illinois law that had made it illegal for citizens to record police officers on-duty. Also in May 2012, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice released a letter affirming the constitutional right to record the police in public. These two developments came on the heels of a landmark ruling in August 2011, which recognized the right of citizens to record police officers after a Massachusetts man in Boston Common was wrongfully arrested for filming an interaction with a police officer.

“In some instances members of the public who challenge authority figures fear that their retelling of events will not be believed,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “This app helps allay those fears.  Firsthand documentation is critical to ensuring police accountability, and it reminds police that the eyes and ears of the public are on them at all times.”

The “Police Tape” app is available for download on Apple and Android devices at www.aclu-nj.org/yourrights/the-app-place/. A how-to video created by the ACLU-NJ shows Lady Liberty as she goes through each step of the app as she records and uploads her own run-in with police. The New York Civil Liberties Union released a similar, New York City-specific app to target “stop and frisk” searches by the New York Police Department in early June.

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