As the Government potentially dilutes police accountability with the abolition of police authorities, new technology will increasingly create a new way of ensuring that the police act responsibly.
I have commented before on the impact of citizens with video-enabled mobile phones being able to post on the internet videos of interactions between the police and the public within seconds of the interaction happening. This means that some incidents that might not previously have received wide coverage now do so. This places a great pressure on the police to act responsibly at all times, even though what may be an entirely reasonable response to, for example, violent behaviour may not look so reasonable when a 10-second clip is viewed without the context of the preceding incident.
Today, however, I heard of another development that will also potentially have far-reaching consequences. Wired reports that three developers from Tulse Hill in south London have build an app that aims to give the public a way to hold the police more accountable:
“Users can upload information when they’re stopped by the police to the Stop and Search UK site, including the location of the stop, the badge numbers of the officers involved, and any feedback they’d like included. There’s also a guide to the law regarding being stopped and searched, to help educate people about their rights.
The hope is that, over time, a wider picture of stop and search powers will emerge across the country, which will in turn increase accountability over a police power which has drawn controversy in the past.”
This effectively creates a crowd-sourced monitoring system and, whilst the data will not be entirely systematic or representative, the information it produces will be a powerful tool for those who want to argue whether or not the stop-and-search tactic is being used fairly, appropriiately and proportionately.
No doubt this app will prove controversial with police officers who will feel that this is yet another impediment to them being able to do their job effectively. However, conscientious officers will have little to fear and a greater confidence in the police that may stem from better accountability can only be a good thing.
If nothing else, it should act as a spur to the Home Office and local police services to ensure that their adoption of mobile technology to properly record and document interactions with the police is speeded up.
As I have previously commented, recording such encounters is an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups. It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.