SEAN CREIGHTON was impressed by a presentation at the latest meeting of Croydon’s tech community, which offered a smartphone solution to a community policing issue that is decades old
There were more than 40 people at the latest Croydon TechCity meeting at Matthews Yard last night, with attendees including many from small businesses and the voluntary sector, and including Stuart Collins, the Labour councillor for Broad Green.
One of the presentations was about a Stop and Search phone app, which had been developed using a community approach to tech product development initiated in South America.
The application allows individuals to upload details of what happens of they are subject to a police stop and search, or witness to one, including the ID number of officers and using GPS, the exact location. Thousands of people have used it so far.
The data collected should help indicate where potential misuse is happening – the designers, talented young Croydon residents Aaron Sonson, Satwant Singh and Gregory Paczkowski – were responding to their concerns about the way in which stop and search is used discriminately, particularly against black people, something that has been an issue for south Londoners since long before the Brixton riots more than 30 years ago.
While they have had a lot of good publicity so far, the designers hope to launch it in March or April backed with a website, www.StopAndSearch.org. They have already won an award for their work from the civil liberties organisation Liberty.
The reaction of members of the audience was very revealing. It was very supportive and many useful questions were asked and practical suggestions made. This is something senior police officers should be concerned about, because it shows the extent to which people believe that some police officers misuse their powers: one member of the audience who works with young people on knife crime issues reported that officers were scared of the app.
Having been secretary of the community/police consultative group in Lambeth which persuaded the government on the need for a code of practice to govern the use of stop and search powers, and the recording of its use which has enabled the discriminatory analysis to be undertaken, I warmly welcomed the initiative. I also pointed out that the discriminatory use is one of the ingredients that causes the underlining resentments against the police, a tinder box waiting for a spark to ignite it.
It occurs to me that similar types of apps are needed in relation to the rights to public demonstration, picketing retail outlets and multi-national offices and leafleting in the streets, all of which are being eroded. A further app might deal with what to do when the police kettle people at demonstrations.
While Liberty has its observers on the ground at demonstrations, a key problem is the way in which the police will often change the tactics they have agreed with organisers and fail to communicate properly with all officers, so that individuals trying to get out of a kettled area can be given conflicting information. An app which could be adopted for each demonstration might help to defuse the potential for clashes.
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