Remember when Army Lt. Caron Nazario was brutally assaulted in Virginia by state police officers who mistakenly believed he had no license plate? As Jonathan Capehart recalled, he had the presence of mind to record the encounter himself.
However, "[w]hile the body cam footage has led to increased awareness of police brutality, the police still own the footage, and they determine when and how it is released to the public."
That's something that has become painfully evident in cases like Ronald Greene, who died at the hands of Louisiana State Police in 2019. Police initially reported that Greene died upon impact in a car crash, but police bodycam footage released two years later now reveal that is a lie. Greene was brutally beaten and tased while his hands were cuffed behind his back, and he died as a result. Only now are police officers being considered for charges, two years into the investigation into his death.
The newly released footage from the state comes from cameras that were used by Lt. John Clary, Trooper Chris Hollingsworth, York and DeMoss, who are White.
Clary, a senior officer who came to the scene of Greene's arrest, did not initially report his camera footage in the evidence submitted to District Attorney John Belton, a Louisiana State Police spokesperson said.
Now, there is an app designed to not only record police stops on a driver's phone, it provides instant connection to an attorney, 24 hours a day, 365 days a week. It's called "TurnSignl," and Capehart interviewed one of the founders, Jazz Hampton, a Minneapolis attorney who left corporate law to create it.
"You know, myself and my two other co-founders, two Black men in the Twin Cities, grew up here, right? And the Twin Cities have been an epicenter of this movement, this call for change," he explained. "The two co-founders I'm with, they both are MBAs, finance and marketing background, tech sales. I'm an attorney. An adjunct professor of law. We all left our corporate jobs to start this. And we did that because we've seen the need for it, right?"
Hampton said he and his co-founders wanted to be an active part of the change. He explained how a driver uses it if they see they're being pulled over by a cop.
"As soon as you're safely pulled over, either press the button within the app or use voice activation. Say, 'Hey, Siri,' or, 'Hey, Google.' At that point, It will immediately start record with a front-facing camera as it's sitting on your dashboard, and will record that interaction and connect you with an attorney in realtime," said Hampton. "[O]ur mission is simple. It's to de-escalate these roadside interactions, to protect drivers' civil rights, and third, and most importantly, make sure the drivers and law enforcement get home safely at the end of every day."
He explained that the attorney is guiding the driver through the interaction if needed. There is no need for attorney intervention if the cop simply asks for license and registration. "If they ask you to open your trunk or search the car to get out of it, maybe the attorney can say, 'Maybe you can explain to me the reason or articulate the suspicion for this probable cause search," said Hampton.
Capehart pointed out that besides the forward-facing camera recording, the truly innovative part of this app is its saving the recording to the Cloud. Hampton elaborated, "If your phone fell into a puddle of water or is broken or lost, you have that recording only available to the driver. That's really exciting for us, because we know it's important to give that user the autonomy to do with that video what they want, instantaneously." According to Hampton, some employers are even including the app in its benefits package for their employees. That's how important it is for them to feel their videos are secure and the employees feel safe.
Hampton and his partners included discussions with police in development of the app, and sought out input about they would feel "as comfortable as possible when they approach the car. We want them to feel more calm than any other interaction they have."
What cops need to be as they approach a car, in my humble opinion, is without weapons. But this app is likely to go a long way towards protecting drivers if police become aware of its existence, and use of it becomes more and more widespread.