Crime Reporting Apps Make Racial Profiling Easy

April 22nd 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

Crime is a serious issue and there are people across the country looking for solutions. One idea, apps for your phone. App developers have worked with police departments and neighborhood watch groups in cities like New Orleans, New York City, and Washington D.C. to make reporting crime easier. But it doesn't always work the way it's intended.

Opponents complain that these apps make racial profiling as easy as ordering take out.

In New Orleans, The French Quarter Task force patrols the neighborhood. It was originally created by a New Orleans businessman who lives in the French Quarter. He started it with his own money, and managed it himself but since then the city has taken it over, according to the The Advocate.

The app allows you to report a crime, give the type of crime, and then upload a photo.

French Quarter Task Force

But an app based on American opinions of what looks "suspicious" can be problematic.

Neighborhood watch devolves into racism.

Last year the Georgetown Business Improvement District in Washington, D.C. shut down a GroupMe message group originally started to prevent crime in the neighborhood, according to The Washington Post. The group messaging service was being used by the businesses in the area to exchange information on suspected criminal activity. GroupMe is a private messaging service for group texting.

Georgetown is a historic upscale area of Washington, D.C. with many high end shops. The GroupMe chat quickly devolved into conversations about shoplifting and Black people. About 90 percent of the "suspicious" pictures posted in the group during a nine month period were of Black customers and many of the posts used offensive language.

The Sketch Factor.

The Sketch Factor app received a host of criticism when it launched in New York City in 2014. The app encouraged users to report areas and people who looked "sketchy" and many people said it encouraged racial profiling. It didn't link to the police, but the app basically created a crowdsourced warning to stay out of certain neighborhoods.

The app expanded to other cities but it still didn't find a warm reception.

The app creators responded to this criticism. One of the apps creators Allison McGuire told The New Yorker that racial profiling was not their intention. “We understand that people will see this issue,” she said, but users shouldn't be racist. “As far as we’re concerned, racial profiling is ‘sketchy.’"

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