Nine days after unarmed Michael Brown was shot by a police officer, and after days of police aiming tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, pepper balls, and beanbag rounds at protesters, a group of young students from Georgia released one response to the problem of police abuse: A new app that that lets citizens rate any interaction with a cop.
"We've been hearing a lot about the scary, negative issues occurring in the media, for example, most recently, the Michael Brown case," says 16-year-old Ima Christian, who built the app along with siblings Caleb, 14, and Asha, 15, with help from Joshua, age 10.
"We talk to our parents often about these issues and they really try to put things into context for us," Christian adds. "In doing so, one of the things they really stress is to focus on finding solutions. My brother Caleb thought we should create an app."
The app, called Five-O, is like a detailed version of Yelp for the police. (It's worth noting that the Ferguson Police Department already has a dismal one-star review on Yelp). After any interaction, someone can answer questions like "Was the stop legitimate?" and "Were you physically assaulted?" and give the officer a grade from A to F. App users can also view scores for a particular department, or browse through departments by county or state.
If an interaction was positive, that can be recorded too. "We definitely want their to be a balance on our app," says Christian. "Law enforcement agencies with positive reviews can help by functioning as role models to agencies with negative reports and reviews."
The students have been developing the app for six months, as they balance programming with schoolwork. The time was right, they thought, to share it now. "We want to push it out to our community and get it rolling," Christian says. "We hope that our app will be able to give every citizen a voice when it comes to interacting with law enforcement."
The Android app is available now, and an iPhone version will be out this week. The students will also continue developing the app. "We're just in beta testing right now," says Asha Christian. "We're developing each and every feature so we can make the app better as we go."