ACLU video app for people recording police comes to Colorado on heels of Colorado Springs cases
DENVER — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado is bringing a smartphone app to the state that has been used by tens of thousands of people elsewhere to safeguard videos they record of law enforcement officers at work.
Mobile Justice will be available to Coloradoans by early July, allowing them to record video that automatically uploads to the ACLU, preventing officers from deleting or destroying it, ACLU Colorado spokesman John Krieger said Tuesday.
The Colorado ACLU has taken on the cases of two black brothers who were pulled over in Colorado Springs in March while driving in their neighborhood. Ryan Brown recorded a video of Benjamin Brown, who was driving, being patted down while in handcuffs. Ryan Brown kept recording when two officers pulled him from passenger seat. Ryan Brown told The Gazette that one of the officers then took his cellphone, stopped the recording and threw the phone in the snow.
Ryan Brown was ticketed for resisting and interference with a public official. Benjamin Brown was ticketed for compulsory insurance and obstruction of view — a charge his brother believes is related to a cracked windshield.
Since the first such app was launched by the New York chapter of the civil liberties group in 2013, a dozen state chapters have followed suit, Krieger said, adding Colorado will be among 10 states launching apps in the next two months.
The New York Civil Liberties Union app was focused on the policy known as stop and frisk, and the group said when it was launched that it would allow New Yorkers "to confront abusive, discriminatory policing." The app also has been used in Ferguson, Missouri, during protests after white officer Darren Wilson shot and killed a black man, 18-year-old, Michael Brown, last year, ACLU Colorado's Krieger said. California, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey and Oregon are among other states where the app has already been launched in a gradual rollout.
Typically, tens of thousands of videos are uploaded soon after apps are launched, Krieger said.
County Sheriffs of Colorado executive director Chris Johnson, who worked for sheriff's departments in southeastern Colorado for three decades before taking his current post a year ago, said officers were themselves increasingly recording videos of encounters with the public, and that he had no problem with citizens uploading their own images anywhere.
Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said his department also had no objection to the ACLU app. "We recognize that we're on camera all the time," Jackson said. "We are a very transparent agency."
But Krieger said ACLU chapters were seeing too many law enforcement officers confiscating or destroying videos or the ubiquitous smartphones used to make them.
"The more people who have the app, the more people who can feel their video is secure," Krieger said. "You have an absolute First Amendment right to record police officers, and we encourage people to do so."
Video can be used to resolve disputes over how events unfold, bolster court cases and help watchdogs detect patterns of behavior of either departments or individual officers, Krieger said.