The New Jersey branch of the ACLU has devised a smartphone app that allows civilians to secretly record police stops, thereby preventing police dashcam recordings that may provide evidence of civil rights violations from being erased or misplaced by officers:
"This app provides an essential tool for police accountability," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.
The arrival of the app, called Police Tape, follows some high-profile cases in which police have clashed with citizens over their recording of officers. It also speaks to the notion that, anywhere, any time — whether it’s by a police department’s security camera or a motorist’s cell phone — everyone can be recorded.
Citizens have been hassled and even arrested after recording police officers in public places, said Alexander Shalom, ACLU New Jersey’s policy counsel. At times, their phones have been taken away and recordings deleted, he said.
"Police often videotape civilians and civilians have a constitutionally protected right to videotape police," Shalom said. "When people know they’re being watched, they tend to behave well."
It's an attractive idea. One of the downsides of police body cams, which the city is currently piloting, is that it puts even more data in the hands of officers—and our police department has a deplorable record with archiving and filling video record requests. Only 40 percent of video record requests are successfully filled, according to a recent city auditors report.
But this isn't New Jersey.
Unlike Goldy, I don't pretend to be a lawyer, but it seems to me this application wouldn't fly here—state law says you can't record people without their consent. But maybe there's a little wiggle room, like if you started the recording by first asking an officer for his or her consent?