The death of Freddie Gray, a resident of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in Baltimore, on April 12, 2015 while in police custody sparked a renewed cry for accountability of policing, police abuses, and the need for stronger citizen oversight of the public organization that is supposed to protect, not endanger, citizens. Since that time, only 5 years later, more than 1,300 Black Americans have been shot by police. In the current climate, stoked by the rabid fearmongering of conservative lawmakers, we see even more aggressive violence by police against peaceful demonstrators.
Shortly after Freddie Gray’s death, No Boundaries Coalition, in collaboration with BUILD and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, produced a report in which they interviewed the residents of Sandtown-Winchester regarding police abuse. The report, “Over-Policed, Yet Underserved: The People’s Findings Regarding Police Misconduct in West Baltimore,” details stories of police misconduct told by witnesses and victims from West Baltimore and makes recommendations for policy change to improve community-police relationships.
You can read the report here.
The report also cites the lack of formal complaints made to the Citizen Review Board due to fear of retaliation by the Baltimore Police Department, and lack of confidence in the citizen oversight mechanism in the Civilian Review Board. Without formal complaints, the numbers and types of police misconduct cases go uncounted – and the police department and city council can draw the conclusion that there are not many cases of police misconduct. We felt strongly that voices needed to be heard in order to effect the needed changes in policing strategies and civilian oversight.
To that end and in collaboration with a local phone app developer, we launched Community Awareness and Accountability (CAA), a mobile app through which citizens can anonymously report police misconduct. A human rights attorney is available to assist in filing a formal complaint with the Citizen Review Board, making sure that complaints are complete and without a reason to be discarded for lack of information. We will follow the complaint though the process and to its final outcome. the information captured on the app can be plotted on a map. In this way the community will be able to know where and how often people are being harassed by police.
The problem of police misconduct is not limited to Baltimore. Police executions of Black Americans is well publicized and widely condemned. What is less known is the harassment and humiliation that immigrants and people of color experience at the hands of police on a daily basis. This abuse of power by police departments happens all over the country and the world.
In New Jersey, in response to wide-spread stop and frisk practices by police, activists created the Newark Communities for Accountable Policing (N-CAP). They are working to develop community advisory boards to monitor police activity and hold Newark police accountable for misconduct.
People in the United Kingdom also experience harassment by local police. Activist there developed a set of tools called Y-Stop to address stop and frisk practices. This project provides information and the skills necessary to keep oneself safe when stopped by police.
We would like to see this phone app used in as many locales as possible. The more data accumulated by the app, the better we can understand the nature and extent of the problem. This would apply to other targeted communities including immigrants, LGBTQ+, transgender and others.