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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Mobile phone apps are evolving in ways that can stop rather than simply document deadly police encounters with people of color — including notifying family and lawyers about potential violations in real time.

Why it matters: As states and cities face pressure to reform excessive force policies, apps that monitor police are becoming more interactive, gathering evidence against rogue officers as well as posting social media videos to shame the agencies.

  • Civil rights advocates praise these tech advances, but some law enforcement advocates fear the videos could be manipulated, or that streaming could turn police into targets.

How it works: Updated apps allow users to monitor police encounters and send information to a variety of different sources, even if an officer tries to damage a phone.

  • A revamped Legal Equalizer app captures police encounters after the user is pulled over, automatically notifying loved ones and providing basic legal information on the spot.
  • Eventually, the app will allow users to receive on-the-scene legal advice for a fee by calling local attorneys who are part of the app's network. A lawyer near the encounter could monitor the situation via Zoom and advise users on their rights.
  • The new version of the Mobile Justice app available in all 50 states records and submits police incidents directly to local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The app also lets users send videos via text messaging to family and private attorneys.
  • The Cop Watch Video Recorder app opens with Siri on iPhones, automatically beginning filming and sending footage to the cloud. The apps film in real time in case the cop seizes or breaks the phone.
  • Mobile Justice was created by the ACLU. Activists and developers have created other apps.

The big picture: These apps seek to give victims of police violence new tools with which to be more proactive rather than having to rely on videos to go viral after incidents have occurred.

  • Legal Equalizer founder Mbye Njie said he recently added a Zoom feature on the app so that family members can watch police interactions live while they're being recorded. "A family member may calm down the situation or tell the officer the person you stopped needs meds."
  • Legal Equalizer has seen 104,000 downloads in six years before its recent upgrade.
  • The Mobile Justice app has had 650,000 downloads and now combines previous ACLU state apps. It has also been used to monitor alleged abuse by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

The other side: "My concern is that someone turns on an app during a routine traffic stop, and, all of a sudden, a mob shows up and confronts an officer just doing his job," said Tony Mace, chair of the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association. "It could make situations worse."

  • Mace said many law enforcement officers welcome more video evidence and see the benefits of engaging family members to manage a mental health crisis. But "I also fear that videos could be edited and shared out of context."

Yes, but: Marcus Benigno of the ACLU of Southern California said if all officers were doing their job, there wouldn't be a need to capture proof of excessive force. "The truth is that communities of color see over-policing and abuse," he said.

  • Isaac Wallner, a Kenosha, Wisconsin, activist who organized protests after the shooting of Jacob Blake in August, said, "These new apps give the power back to civilians and provide more transparency."

What’s next: Raheem, an Oakland, California-based mobile platform, is developing a widget that can be added to websites so victims can report abuse to the proper agencies.

  • Raheem founder Brandon Anderson said the widget will bypass requirements that victims go to police headquarters to report abuse. It will also generate data about patterns of excessive abuse around the country.

Go deeper:

Using tech to police the police

2 shootings, 2 days: In Kenosha, a microcosm of U.S. strife

Police killings of Latinos go unnoticed, underscoring racial history

Go deeper

Jan 28, 2021 - Technology

Big Tech at war over privacy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The world's biggest tech firms are at each other's throats over how to manage data privacy, an issue that will shape the internet economy for years to come.

Why it matters: Absent any U.S. government intervention, tech companies are introducing rules that favor their own ideals and business models, sometimes at their peers' expense.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.