What The San Francisco Police Wants You To Do With Your Smartphone Instead Of Recording Police Misconduct

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JEFF CHIU
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JEFF CHIU

San Francisco police want onlookers to turn their smartphone camera on suspected criminal activity — instead of police behavior.

The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) is reportedly developing a crime-reporting app, Fight Crime SF, that will allow citizens to submit photos and video of suspected criminal activity. The app doesn’t have a release date but is expected to be released to the public early this year, according to SFD spokeswoman Officer Susan Merritt’s statements in a recent issue of the police union’s journal.

“In early 2016, we will be introducing a new app for the public,” Merritt wrote. “It will be called Fight Crime SF. Members of the community will be able to send police video and pictures of crimes in progress or suspicious activity using this app.”

Police misconduct, especially when caught on video, has become a focal point of public criticism across the country. That also has been the case in San Francisco which is in the midst of an ongoing police brutality investigation.


The app’s impending release follows the controversial police shooting death of Mario Woods that was caught on video by witnesses. Citizens and Black Lives Matter supporters called for the resignation of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr for the excessive force demonstrated in Woods’ shooting last month. Bystander video footage of the December shooting depicts five police officers opening fire on Woods as the 26 year old tried to walk away.

SFPD’s app raises familiar concerns among advocates regarding privacy, surveillance, and harassment concerns. California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit authority previously released a similar app in 2014 called BART Watch, allowing public transit riders to report crime.

Law enforcement have increasingly incorporated online tools into their crime-fighting arsenals. But their reliance on social media and other technologies to spot crime also lead to suspicions of abuse against vulnerable populations.

A New York City campaign released by the Sergeants’ Benevolent Association encouraged police and their families to track and report homeless people suspected of nuisance or public indecency crimes such as panhandling or public urination.

On the civilian side, the Georgetown Business Improvement District created a messaging service for police, retailers, and citizens to discuss suspicious people — particularly shoplifters — in the affluent Washington, D.C. neighborhood. The service colloquially dubbed “Operation GroupMe” was suspended for racial profiling after it was reported that more than 70 percent of the messages were to report black people as suspicious.