Watching the Detectives

I wrote yesterday about an app I wanted to develop – the “you sure?” app would institute a delay between the typing of a post and the actual posting.  It’s designed to limit career threatening posts.  It is still in the very early development stage.   

But here’s an app that really does exist. And it’s causing some controversy among the police community.   The “Mobile Justice” app allows the public to film police activity and automatically upload it to local ACLU servers.  The idea is to preserve the video in case of any dispute with the officer on the scene and possible destruction of the footage.  The app also provides alerts to other app users about the ongoing activity.  

According to Techdirt, a lot of rank and file police have no problem with the app.  Given the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and the First Amendment right to record police activity, there’s no way to stop anyone from filming the activity.  And some cops have noted that they welcome the opportunity to display their appropriate behavior on camera.   

Other police, in many cases police unions, however, have sounded doom and gloom alarms. The biggest issue seems to be the concern that the app’s ability to notify other app users about the ongoing activity will lead to “flash mobs” springing up whenever police try to make an arrest. It is on this basis, apparently, that  police in Minnesota are thinking about court action to block the app.  The problem with that approach is that the argument sounds compelling until you think about it for a minute.   

First of all, in many police confrontations,  responding officers arrive with lights flashing and sirens wailing.  So the public has a pretty good idea of what’s happening and where.  Second, if people are inclined to notify others, they can send a text message quickly and easily.  So the capability to notify a “mob” already exists.  And third, most people aren’t like Batman sitting at Wayne Manor waiting for the bat signal to flash across the sky.  So even if the app broadcasts the location of the event, how many people realistically are going to drop what they’re doing and run to the scene.  And even that scenario assumes they are not engaged in school, work or some other activity they can’t easily abandon.   

I don’t know if the “Mobile Justice” app is going to have enough appeal to really matter.  But  for a host of reasons, it’s probably best for the market to decide.