The emergence of fatal instances of police misconduct documented by witnesses with smartphones reflected the need for a platform to aggregate these events for newsrooms and the community.
Stories of police misconduct ranging from Eric Garner to Walter Scott and Freddie Gray are among the instances of documented police misconduct that we are aware of thanks to technology and the media.
There are certainly moments of police misconduct caught on a witness’s smartphone that have not been in the media because these witnesses lacked the utility or knowhow to submit these moments to newsrooms. It was the recognition of this gap between the media and communities that gave birth to POWER.
Last November, we set out to develop a mobile app that lets people send witness accounts of police misconduct or proper policing to newsrooms and social justice groups. As of April 15, a BETA version of the Police Officer Event Watchdog Reporter (POWER) was available for android device users to upload pictures, video and a text description for the aforementioned purposes. The process required months of coding with frequent revisions and meetings that involved changes to the original blueprint of POWER.
The original plan was for people to use POWER to take pictures and shoot videos within the application itself. Then we realized that smartphones are predisposed to provide instant access to the device’s camera function via a button or touch screen interface, so we decided to take advantage of this by having people upload their content after recording the events. This is only a small portion of our plans for POWER, but the community online and around LSU has already taken a liking to the project.
POWER within the Community
With only 12 downloads as of April, POWER already has a handful of media coverage. Seven different publications have reported on our efforts to provide POWER to communities and newsrooms, and that number will increase to eight if and when The Advocate publishes its story about the app (We were interviewed by the Baton Rouge newspaper today).
The media coverage helped spread news of our efforts throughout LSU. A professor from one of our classes outside of Manship noted that he read about POWER in Dig Magazine for instance. However, we’re far from done in engaging the community.
With amazing assistance from Ashley Hesson and Will Glass, graduate students from LSU, POWER has a detailed strategy regarding the target audience, steps and goals required to ensure POWER becomes a tool to protect citizens and police officers.
In one instance, Hesson and Glass, the latter being the Manship student who played a role in securing the grant money for the Social Media News Challenge, helped us in identifying the need to spread the access of this app to urban areas that tend to receive more policing in the community.
Communities with more police-citizen interaction tend to also have more reports of misconduct, thus establishing why we must interact with the populations of these areas to ensure they are aware of POWER.
Meetings and activist demonstrations related to police brutality are also venues where POWER requires exposure. These events are found in the Baton Rouge community and at college campuses, where we also plan to spread the use of POWER. While these efforts each require physical activity, the sudden success of our social media highlights the potential for our growth.
POWER in Social Media
The viral nature of one POWER-related story, and the overnight increase of attention to our Facebook
page, highlighted the potential popularity of the project. A story of the project published on a media website called TheFreeThoughtProject.com in February received close to 7 thousand Facebook shares despite the fact that our app was published in April.
The following, measured by likes, on our Facebook page, which shares police conduct-related posts every day, went from 0 to 100 overnight April 16. Maintaining the page with the aforementioned posts and plugs of POWER’s progress thus far have increased our following to 204 likes.
One of the individual posts from our Facebook has more than 3 thousand views because several people shared the link with their own networks in social media. The total amount of views from Facebook users with regard to posts on our page is 1,872. Having managed social media accounts for startup establishments, these numbers show promise if we continue to demonstrate the progress of POWER. We also created a Twitter for POWER, which is another we’re learning to use within the startup industry.
Lessons from POWER
Making apps can be fun and frustrating at the same time. Many things can happen during the process, ranging from new design and function ideas for the pleasure of users to bugs that crashed the app during test phases.
Time management is a serious necessity in establishing an app company, which involves financial management, networking, marketing and media relations, and most importantly the coding. But the app world is fluid and innovative, and we’re barely scratching the surface of what POWER can provide to people.
As always, there are risks associated with projects and POWER is no exception. The app world has a quite the roster of police watchdog apps, which makes sense when you consider the prevalence of police misconduct shown in the media. What sets POWER apart from the competition is our purpose: We are bridging the gap between communities and newsrooms in a manner that improves journalism, activism and the way communities interact with each other.
Another risk is the aspect of funding. The servers maintaining the information we receive require fees, and we have no desire to commodify victims of police misconduct. We decided one solution is to develop a donation button to allow people to send funds to maintain the server fees, but that is not the only avenue we have in mind.
The Apple store is reviewing POWER’s applicability for iOS, meaning the app will be available to iPhone users within several days or weeks. We are working to develop a website for users to visit that includes download links to the app as well as background information and press history.
While we won’t spoil all the details of what’s to come from POWER, we will say that it involves building a much needed relationship with local law enforcement to ensure the community is safe. We don’t consider POWER a failure or a complete success despite our reception from the media and the community. We want this app to truly close the gap between communities and newsrooms, and we’ll need help from everyone interested in improving the communities they live in.