ACLU Creates Smartphone App to Document Police Interactions

While cities debate the merits of equipping police officers with body cameras, the public has trained an eye on cops with cameras of their own. As evidenced by videos of police encounters in Staten Island, which led to the killing of Eric Garner, and Baltimore, which ended in Freddie Gray’s death, smartphones have become primary sources in documenting police interactions.

Just last weekend, a bystander recorded a group of San Jose police officers whaling on a 22-year-old man in San Jose’s East Side. The police department said the suspect, Juan Moreno-Lopez, was acting suspiciously and ran from officers. The department also said Moreno-Lopez attempted to the fight officers. Once taken down, he was said to act combative and resist arrest. Video of his arrest shows two officers holding Moreno-Lopez down on the ground before several more officers descend upon him and begin to punch and hit him with a baton. A taser was also also reportedly used.

It didn't take long for the footage to go viral, and the incident is now under internal review.

Almost a year ago, in July 2014, another bystander recorded San Jose police slamming a man to the ground and pummeling him with batons. Twenty-three-year-old Nate Howard, who was never charged, filed an excessive force complaint after the incident, which happened hours after he spoke at the San Jose State University Black Graduation ceremony. He cited cellphone footage, which also went viral, as evidence.

Prompted by the national conversation about use of force by police—particularly against African-American men—the American Civil Liberties Union has developed an app enabling users to record and upload footage of police for attorneys to review for due-process violations. Last week, the civil rights group launched its “Mobile Justice” app in California.

The app, available in both English and Spanish, includes a “witness” feature that alerts users if someone reported an incident nearby. There’s a red “record” button, an option to file a report and a menu that runs down a list of rights with advice about how to comport oneself in event of a police encounter. There’s also an option to automatically lock the phone screen once it starts recording, so nobody tampers with or erases the video.

“The [app] puts the power to ensure transparency in the hands of the people,” says Hector Villagra of the ACLU. “With so many people carrying cellphones with cameras, the whole world could be watching with just a touch of the phone’s screen.”

Many major city police agencies have become accustomed to that fact. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck reportedly tells his officers to just assume they’re being videotaped.

Reports of police brutality have remained relatively consistent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, though they have become more visible with the proliferation of images and videos posted on social media. While it's unclear how effective cellphone videos can be in holding police accountable for their behavior, they have certainly provoked a national conversation.

mobile justice

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. The other day I recorded a video of a “behavioral specialist” humiliating a special needs child at Pine Hill School. Whenever I record hit video my first course of action is to upload it to NY google drives, then delete it from my phone. The guy called the cops on me, I on him, and the responding officers asked me to delete the video from my phone (which technically I did before they arrived)

    Sort of glad to see the ACLU doing this. I’m sure it’s not a cheap system to build.

      • Got it, only a big man with strength in numbers.


        Interesting, the only two posts you made on SJI were both directed at me… So I suppose anytime a person gets into an engagement with backup they’re “Cowards” in your book. So by your own standards, cops, relief workers, military, etc are all cowards.

        Or does this logic only apply to me?

  2. Cousin Cortese: Good tip. Now give me a step-by-step on how to do that upload. It seems to me that cop’s “request” is a crime–suborning destruction of evidence. Did you get the cop’s badge #?

    On another note, perhaps George Lopez or Cheech Marin can record a Spanish language version of Chris Rock’s You Tube on how not to get your ass kicked by the POlice.:

    • Very easy to do JMO. Instructions are for android, but it’s probably not too different for IOS.

      Install the google drive app.
      Click “Upload file”
      Browse to the file on your phone (usually has an MP4 extension)
      Hit upload.

      To delete from your device.
      Open the “Gallery” app (usually comes pre-installed)
      Browse to the video.
      Hit the trash can icon.

      As far as the officers, didn’t get a badge number,just a last name. The video you posted above is a perfect example of how to handle these situations. You don’t win them by yelling, “I KNOW MY RIGHTS!” Nothing pisses a cop off faster than those 4 words. Nope, your best bet is to act as cordially and cooperatively. I didn’t lie to him when I said, “The video’s already been deleted from my phone” I just didn’t tell him I had already made a backup copy.

      As far as his request.. Well guess what? Cops can say all kinds of lies during an investigation. They can bluff all they want to. I’ve read some ACLU stuff that says they can’t ask you to delete video… But has this really been tested in the higher courts? Has congress passed any law that specifically pertains to citizens filming officers? What about the inverse?

      That’s the problem with laws, sometimes something exists for both ends of the spectrum, but instead of cancelling out, it gives a judge or DA the right to swing the prosecution towards one extreme or the other.

  3. SJ inside: Officers wailing on…. This is your journalism. So without knowing anything about the incident you label it. Officers fighting with suspect that attacked them and when video going the officers are scared and tired as they fight to subdue this thug, that they don’t know if he has a gun knife. Your bias shows in the 8th grade reporting.

  4. The ACLU spying on people, this seams to be an interesting turn of events.
    I’d like to see a story on just what is our rights to privacy or to photograph other people is.
    Should we not put cameras on our politicians to make sure they are not doing something wrong?

  5. The people that video record officers using force never capture know the facts leading up to the time that they become aware that something is going on- the physical action taking place. All they are recording is the aftermath. These people don’t understand that the officer is allowed to use that force that is necessary to effect an arrest. We don’t pay officers to run away from their responsibilities. Many times police work doesn’t look pretty, but that doesn’t make it unlawful or outside the ethics of law enforcement.

    • You’re exactly right Sal! “Many times police work doesn’t look pretty, but that doesn’t make it unlawful or outside the ethics of law enforcement.”

      The general public is in dire need of education regarding the realities of public safety. Everyone from firefighters, EMT’s and police face some degree of danger on a regular basis, and there are safety protocols in place which are there protect them. The general public doesn’t usually know that medical personnel will not enter a scene that hasn’t been deemed “secure” if a threat still possibly exists. Even if they know someone is dying from a gunshot wound/ stab wound, they will not rush in to save the person until they know there is not an active threat being posed to them.

      Regarding police work, the danger is obviously considerably higher. People seem to forget that the police are responsible for either neutralizing or eliminating active threats to their own safety as well as the public’s. Violence is an inherent element of police work, and unfortunately it’s not pleasing for most people to watch. A determined Suspect, under the influence of dangerous street drugs or cocktails of various drugs, can literally possess superhuman strength, feel no pain, and have almost endless endurance. Combine all of these elements with profuse perspiration, the possibility of mental illness and the unknown presence of weapons, well… That’s how it can take 5-6 officers to take one person into custody.

      The general public wants to believe that suspects only fight for a few seconds then just give up, or as soon as a gun gets pointed at them they put their hands in the air and freeze. This couldn’t be any further from reality. I’ve even heard people say, “Well you never really see the officers on COPS beating people with batons and dog piling on people.” While this might be true, that’s because every department who allows COPS to film with them has complete control over what gets aired on TV. Generally speaking, glorifying violence is not an objective of law enforcement and these incidents aren’t revealed to the public. With the proliferation of video cameras, this is now beginning to change, and it’s clear to see most people aren’t prepared to accept it.

  6. Every cop needs to download this app and start using it to record the same people who , scream vulgarities, resist arrest and fight….. The ACLU server could be flooded with people behaving badly within a week! Hey SJI why dont you try doing the same job for a week. Remember when joe pedophile spits in your face while arresting him on that 100k warrant just suck it up ….. This country is screwed and going down the crapper fast!

  7. I offer the following remarks with the sincerest respect and without condescension. These comments are things I am sure that anyone who has been in the military and every experienced street cop will understand but that no one in the ACLU or the “race hate activism industry” ever will. I think it is important that they be said.

    There are 2 types of individuals for whom violence is an integral part of daily life; cops and criminals. Yet not all those who live by violence are themselves violent people, which statement is to my mind not even paradoxical. For police officers, violence is a tool. The problem is that political anxiety and tension occurs when the reality of violence collides with the illusion of tranquility. We expect the police to deal with violent individuals without resorting to counter-violence themselves. It simply doesn’t work that way. The logic of violence is simple. Violence is a crude, ugly, but necessary, reaction against transgression that deters those who might otherwise follow suit and commit or contemplate committing other acts of unjustifiable violence. Yet, the face of violence is always hideous, shocking, and terrifying no matter its use or justification and activists with their cameras choose to capitalize on and exploit this by deliberately avoiding the context of an instance of police violence in order to empower themselves.

    The one thing that activists and the community must understand and accept, and that the criminal should fear and avoid, is that the proper police officer is above all else, dangerous. Sweetness and light to normal, decent people; acidity and fire to those who use violence to victimize the weak and the innocent; and the good and the decent. In fact, neither kindness nor courtesy is an appropriate response to aggression or rudeness. It only encourages it,

    There is, of course, a wide gulf between brutality and properly directed police violence. There have been rare incidents where an aberrant police officer has breached that gulf. However, a close and objective examination will reveal that the police profession has done a far better job of weeding out and dealing with their problem personnel than has the legal, medical and journalism professions.

    For the proper patrol officer aggressiveness is not brutal but he or she must remain aware of its presence and usefulness. The proper patrol officer embraces a code of ethics which, properly employed, opts for force only when it is necessary. Since there is no benefit in confrontation, the proper patrol officer avoids it, if he can. He must though, at all times, maintain the readiness and the capability of overwhelming violence if forced to strike because criminal violence is not overcome by use of equal or lesser force.

    One thing is certain: Whenever police intervention is required, a police officer must unfailingly wrest control from the criminal and restore order. Therefore in any encounter, police officers must always win. A police officer has little choice in the matter. It is a cop’s duty to deal with conflict and violence. When violence comes to him or her, they must face it down. And when it tries to hide, they must go in after it and they must succeed. If the police fail or are, by politics, prevented from doing their duty, as in the recent riots in Ferguson and the rampages in Baltimore, the result is anarchy and where there is anarchy, there is no freedom.

    • > The problem is that political anxiety and tension occurs when the reality of violence collides with the illusion of tranquility.

      A candid pronouncement in a society that is offended by candor.

      The nature of electoral democracies is that wishful fantasy trumps reality and political success is achieved by those who best blow sunshine up the skirts of voters.

  8. Well reporting should work both ways. Same as respect. Who pays the tax and who gets paid by the tax equally matters and both are important to society. You can’t have any society with out both. Don’t go to 420 Evaluations on N. 4th Fourth St. Nasarin Hashemi smells o fish ! Simply nasty. Go to Dr Ngo on 8th and Santa Clara St.

  9. J.S. Robillard provided an excellent example of how sound reasoning, applied to the inescapable realities of human behavior, exposes the ignorance and naiveté behind the hysteria over the utilization of force by our nation’s police officers. Anyone possessing a genuine interest in obtaining an informed opinion on the matter would, at minimum, be obligated to either accept his argument on its face or expose its faults and contradict it.

    That, unfortunately, is something few are inclined to do. As the U.S. Attorney General made clear in Ferguson, when it comes to the question of police use of force, neither sound reasoning nor the realities of human behavior will be heard at the discussion table, for every seat has been set aside for a politician. Elected politicians, appointed politicians, race politicians, media politicians, academic politicians — these are the culture destroyers who will skewer together the fabrications, feigned outrage, false promises, and convenient scapegoats with which to feed the ravenous, riotous crowd — as well as dupe tens of millions of overly-trusting American voters.

    Today, dead negroes trade on the political commodities market very much as do diamonds on the gem market, their value influenced by a number of factors and measuring from zero (murdered by other negroes, valued only by loved ones), to run-of-the-mill (death due to substance abuse or lifestyle-related disease, valued by race-activists and institutional guilt peddlers), to precious — the real eye-catching bling (death at the hands of the police under exploitable circumstances). And don’t think the commodity traders aren’t out there sorting through the bountiful yearly yield of dead negroes looking for something that might be presented as that rarest of gems.

    Every year police chalk-outline the bodies of thousands of zero-value murder victims, witness the anguish and bear the anger of the loved ones, work hard and risk their own lives to bring the killers to justice, and hear not one peep from any couldn’t-care-less politician — political, appointed, or otherwise. When the deplorable Nancy Pelosi spoke last week about the tragic loss of “Freddy” I couldn’t help but detect the diamond sparkle belying her sad air. In truth, she saw dead “Freddy” as so many seats in Congress, so many additional Democratic votes for president, so many more federal program dollars available for enriching loyal supporters. This is a woman who understands that in a country that outlaws many of the most effective savage-pleasing stunts — where it is not possible to throw the occasional missionary in the stewpot, cooking up a few cops (along with vilifying an entire profession) will make for a winning recipe.

  10. Watch out San Jose and make sure you keep lots of “Throw Down Bottles” in your briefcases. It’s a cool app just used in LA and the Chief “Shotgun” Beck had to immediately admit their was no evidence that the officer had the right to shoot a mentally ill alcoholic who was unarmed. After all the killings this jerk has exonerated like DA “Milktoast” Jeff Rosen a man I spoke with privately and who told me “I don’t have to answer that question” and it cost him my large donation because he was a Carr conspirator.

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