A black criminal lawyer has designed a free app to allow anyone at risk of being stopped and searched by police to film incidents to ensure they have an “independent witness” to any interactions.
Michael Herford a criminal lawyer with Legal Lifelines, said the app could help provide a different perspective on an incident from police bodycam footage, or evidence when a police bodycam was not turned on or its footage was lost.
If someone sees the police approaching, they can press a button on their phone to start recording. Footage is uploaded in real time to the cloud using military-grade encryption, so that if the phone is damaged or confiscated during an interaction with police, the footage is preserved.
Concern has been growing about police use of stop and search, especially against black people. Organisations such as Stopwatch and Black Lives Matter are campaigning for increased fairness and accountability from the police following high-profile incidents involving black people, such as the athlete Bianca Williams and the MP Dawn Butler.
The latest annual figures for England and Wales, covering the period from April 2018 to March 2019, show that black people were almost 10 times as likely to be searched as white people. There were 38 searches per 1,000 black people, compared with four per 1,000 white people. Almost half of these searches were conducted by the Metropolitan police.
Herford, who has himself been stopped and searched, said: “This app is about redressing the balance should there be evidence of police misconduct. It gives people a voice and gives them evidence to achieve justice.”
Filmed interactions with the police have sometimes had a profound impact, such as in the case of George Floyd in the US, but onlookers do not always capture an incident from the beginning, something the Legal Lifelines app aims to do.
Jo Sidhu, a criminal QC and vice-chair of the Criminal Bar Association, welcomed the initiative. “Three-quarters of young black people believe they are unfairly targeted by the police,” he said. “Since they are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched, their perception is clearly rooted in a bitter reality. So it’s absurd to pretend racial profiling doesn’t exist.
“Collecting video evidence of these street interactions is crucial if we are to hold the police to account. Never underestimate the psychological impact and humiliation of being searched in full view of the public. Having experienced it myself as a young man, I know how long it can take to repair the damage it does to confidence and trust.”
Duwayne Brooks, who campaigns for accountable policing, said the app would be a fantastic tool for young people in particular. “It will give them a voice and help them achieve justice,” he said.
A Metropolitan Police Service spokesperson said the force was not commenting on the app. They said that in response to an increase in the number of videos of police interactions with the public circulating on social media, it had introduced a fast-time assessment process where any such videos flagged to the force were quickly and thoroughly reviewed by the Directorate of Professional Standards.
The spokesperson added that since June, 95 videos had been reviewed and only three cases had required further investigation.