ACLU builds a new app to start conversations around policing

When citizens film police: Does anything change?
When citizens film police: Does anything change?

The ACLU is using tech to help fuel a conversation about policing.

Last week, the ACLU of Texas launched a new app, ACLU Blue, which allows users to record police interactions and share them with the public.

ACLU Blue is similar to Mobile Justice, an ACLU app that's been available in several states for a few years. But that app serves one specific purpose: To offer legal advice to people who think they've been the victims of police misconduct.

When you film and upload a video using the Mobile Justice app, your footage goes only to ACLU lawyers. But when you film and upload a video using the ACLU Blue app, it passes through a review process and is posted to the ACLU Blue YouTube page -- where it can be viewed by the public.

That sets ACLU Blue apart from other apps designed to capture negative interactions with police.

Dione Friends, the director of communications for the ACLU of Texas, said she hopes the app will provide a holistic view of of policing in Texas. That can also mean showcasing positive interactions.

Related: When citizens film police: Does anything change?

"When folks are doing it right, there's a lot of value in elevating that and saying, 'This is what model policing looks like,'" she said, adding "that helps make it more clear when something goes wrong."

Friends said Texans wanted their own version of the Mobile Justice app -- but it just wasn't feasible.

"The hardest thing for us is that Texas is just so big," she said. "I didn't want to build something that would put a really big burden on our legal team."

A crowdsourcing model offers a solution to that problem. Trained members of the community can help review videos, removing some of the logistical burden from ACLU staff. Plus, Friends said that tweaking the purpose of the app -- from submitting videos to a private audience to sharing videos with the public -- makes for a more continuous conversation, one that doesn't rely on hashtag campaigns around police interactions that ended in tragedy.

While the app is available for download nationally, it's designed to be used just in Texas.

ACLU Blue offers information specific to Texas, like what to do when you're protesting or if you're stopped by police and what rights you have at the Texas-Mexico border.

Friends says that a national app is in the works. "There's been a real appetite."

"Video is very powerful," she added. "It tells a story in a way that you can't really refute."

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