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Mobile Applications

The Alabama app to 'protect' global citizens from police

“The tensions between the police and citizens are at an all-time high in our country,” Duncan Kirkwood, Managing Partner at Hands Up 4 Justice tells IDG Connect. And this is precisely the problem his new app, launched on 9th January, aims to tackle by allowing citizens to auto-upload geotagged videos to Dropbox to verify encounters with law enforcement.

“[Tensions] are mainly focused on people of colour,” says Kirkwood “police and many citizens view black men as a threat. And because of this when police pull over black men often they are already on alert for their own safety. Combine that with [the fact] black men [are] on edge because they are fearful of police, and you get a very tense situation.”

“I think that white people, especially low income white people face issues with the police similarly to people of colour, but not to the same frequency or degree.”

The idea for the app came about when Montgomery, Alabama resident Kirkwood was pulled over by the police while visiting Charlotte, North Carolina. “You know, I’m a black man who grew up in the inner city. I know that when the police pull you over it’s probably gonna be a bad day,” he told Fusion.

His own police encounter actually turned out to be fine but his initial fear and escalating tensions across the US made him realise how serious the need for a solution was. Things have worsened since the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, murder of Eric Gardner by the NYPD, “and then the murder of two police officers by some vigilante” he tells us.

“Tensions vary based on location and type of location. In major metropolitans with large inner cities or in Border States with large Hispanic populations the tensions are high, and the trust is low,” he clarifies. “In more rural parts of the country often people of a community have relationships with the police officers that protect their community, but there are still cases of unarmed citizens being killed or beaten by police there as well.”

The app, which is currently only available on Android (“we all have Androids in our family and we could afford to release it on iOS too since we put our own money into developing and marketing the app”) will come out on iPhone soon.

It is simple to use: you turn on the app click front-facing camera and begin recording. After this “you have 10 seconds before the app will go black, but the app is still recording. This feature is to protect you from police that might take or destroy your phone,” explains the website. The feature geotags the videos and auto saves content to Dropbox every two minutes. Users will receive a text to let them know this has happened.  

The app also works to publicise peaceful protests. “There are so many demonstrations happening across the country for justice for so many that have been murdered or maimed by law enforcement but there wasn’t a place to centralise where and when they were all taking place, so we added that to the app as well,” says Kirkwood. “One of the biggest challenges about organising for a good cause is getting the information out, so we tried to address this issue.”

The app has been downloaded around 500 times. “We are not seeing a concentration in any particular area, but the focus of the media coverage has been more so in the South,” he tells us. There have also been a handful of downloads from Canada and the UK. And although he hasn’t seen any from India yet, this seems like it could be a very fertile market.

There are also numerous other uses for the app outside law enforcement such as people who suffer domestic violence and care abuse. “I have had several parents also mention to me they are going to have their school age children download the app to catch bullies in the act of terrorising other children, or catch teachers not teaching or saying inappropriate things to children,” adds Kirkwood.

“Those were things we didn’t originally consider. Also, because of the automatic emergency text the app sends, several women have expressed their intention to use the app if they are ever in a potential date rape situation.”

Kirkwood says the app has had an “amazing reaction” so far. “People are wholly supportive and see the need for it, especially at a time like this. Police officers have also had a good response to the app, the officers that I spoke with are open to accountability and welcome it.”

“This app is a game changer, and people should never fear the officers that are sworn to protect them,” concludes Kirkwood. “Even if someone is guilty, they should not fear for their life, if enough people download this app it will change the behaviour of police around the world.”

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