If you have been treated unfairly – or even brutally by police – what do you do? Who do you report the incident to?
Some may feel uncomfortable going back to the very agency in question, and therein lies the problem.
The solution, University of DC law student Jonathan Newton says – is simple. A separate, 3rd party, called the Police Incident Reporting Platform, or PIRP.
Newton started law school two days after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. “The conversation was heated and it was one of those moments you’ll always remember,” says Newton. That’s because it was the moment he saw a clear divide, in how police misconduct is perceived. “There was this sense of ambivalence among some folks, it happens but,” remembers Newton.
So, using his experience as a former police officer, he decided to create a system of accountability, a website for people to report police misconduct, a separate, impartial party. “I wanted to see something that was more victim-oriented and empowering victims to be able to take charge of the situation by reporting it themselves.”
The website, hosted under his organization, the “National Association Against Police Brutality,” is just a place-holder for now, with only a contact number. But in the year since the website went live, Newton says they’ve already received 600 phone calls. “Here’s what I would hear, ‘hey this happened to me, do you think you know anyone that can help me,'” remembers Newton. “I said, well let me look it up and then I would go on and Google police misconduct or civil rights attorneys.”
Now, he’s streamlining the process, forming a sort of 911 dispatch center to take phone calls or emails from potential victims. “Then, they’re going to dispatch it out to the help that the person requested, if it is legal help, spiritual help, or wellness help.”
Newton recognizes there will be people who try to game the system and file false reports, but he says attorneys answering the calls will know what to do. “That attorney is going to be able to spot factual gaps in what they are alleging and what can actually be proven.”
Once a report is verified, the information will be put into the database. “When we aggregate all that data we can show that this particular officer has a real problem,” says Newton. “We can approach first the citizen’s overview board to say here’s what we’ve got, and then also go to that department and say, here’s a bad actor. Here’s what we have.”
In the future, all verified information on the database will be available for the public to view. “People won’t be able to hop on here and enter an officer’s name and say he’s been accused of “XYZ,” no, but once we see a pattern that will be made public.”
Newton says this is a step in the right direction, to protecting both parties and improving relationships between police and citizens. “Stop applying these ‘he’s a cop so he’s bad, or black so he’s bad or they’re poor so they’re bad and they’re always up to no good,’ then we’ll start making progress in the country.”
The website is http://naapb.org/ and is expected to be up and running by the end of the year. An app is also in the works. In the meantime, they are accepting phone calls: 202-749-9775.