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App Lets People Record Interactions With TPD

Pictured here is an iPhone displaying the Tallahassee Bystander app.
Robbie Gaffney
Tallahassee Bystander is a new app that sends unedited videos recorded by users to the Tallahassee Police Department.

The Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) is endorsing an app that allows residents to record officers and livestream that footage to the agency. The app is Tallahassee Bystander. Videos recorded on it automatically get sent unedited to TPD. The agency says users remain anonymous. TPD's Alicia Turner says the app uploads videos to a server. From there, Turner says they can be reviewed.

"It's just another level of trust and transparency and our way to show our commitment to both of those things here at the police department," Turner says.

When asked if TPD could use video from the app to discipline an officer, Turner said if the footage shows an officer's conduct doesn't fit within the agency's policy or doesn't positively represent TPD, it will quote, "be handled accordingly." She did not explain what that meant.

Emma Fridel is an Assistant Professor at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. She's studied fatal officer-citizen encounters, among other subjects. Fridel says the app presents an issue TPD may already have with body-worn cameras. The agency may have thousands of hours of footage where nothing of interest occurs.

"For most officers wearing cameras, the vast majority of their entire careers, let alone every day, is not going to have any kind of incidence of excessive force, let alone officer-involved shootings," Fridel says.

Trish Brown is the Tallahassee Community Action Committee's Director of Community Outreach and Engagement. It's a local social justice group. Brown is concerned people may use the app outside its intended purpose, which she says could lead to over-policing and racial profiling of Black people.

"Black people, we're not going to download no app like that," Brown says.

Brown says TPD needs to first gain the trust of communities of color before asking people to install the app.

"For me, that app being developed or them coming up with this idea was another way of the city officials and city commission patting themselves on the back when really it's not going to make any change," Brown says.

In a press release, TPD says Tallahassee's Technology and Innovation department worked with Quadrant 2 Inc. to develop the app in tandem with the community group More Than A Name.

"So just going to one organization is not how you do this. That is not enough," Brown says.

Brown says TPD should have reached out to more groups and done canvassing within communities impacted by poverty before moving forward. Meanwhile, Fridel says the app, along with body cameras, could help deescalate police and citizen encounters.

"An officer is less likely to use what may be considered excessive force if they are aware that they are being recorded. And in the same light, a member of the public may be less likely to be aggressive towards the officer or potentially assault an officer if they are aware they're being recorded as well," Fridel says.

Fridel says the app seems to be a compliment to body-worn cameras. She says depending on the officer's jurisdiction, they can turn off their body-worn camera.

"This app would come in and allow members of the public to record when they believe the interaction needs to be recorded, which would sort of address that potential loophole," Fridel says.

Fridel says the app is a step in the right direction. The Tallahassee Bystander app saves videos the user records through it and sends the videos to three emergency contacts submitted by the user. The app is available on the Apple Store and Google Play.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.