Norfolk, Va. - The American Civil Liberties Union has released a mobile-phone app that sends a copy of police video to its offices, in case the original is destroyed or deleted.
Virginia will now be added to the list of states where the app can be used. The Virginia chapter of the ACLU says the app will be available on November 13.
North Carolina has been placed on the list of states approved to use the app.
An advertisement for the app, called "Mobile Justice," includes video of a deputy U.S. marshal grabbing a bystander's phone and smashing it. The app's advertisements say in cases like that, a copy of the video will be sent to an ACLU office for investigation. In an email to NewsChannel 3, the Richmond office of the ACLU said there would be a Virginia version of the app, but it was not yet ready to launch. The California version is ready and can be downloaded free. According to the ACLU, anyone using that version will have video saved and sent to the nearest ACLU office.
Alton Robinson, a Norfolk man who had his video camera confiscated by police in 2011, said the app is "an excellent idea."
"The officers today have to be held accountable for their behavior," he said.
Robinson said he was recording a protest march on Goff Street, and also recorded the police officers watching the march from their cars. Two officers confronted Robinson, said he did not have permission to record them, and that recording in Norfolk was illegal without a permit. Robinson protested. The officers took his camera and arrested him.
In court, all charges were dropped. The city code the officers tried to use was meant to control commercial film crews, not citizens.
Melinda Wray, a Norfolk police spokeswoman, said at the time of Robinson's arrest most officers understood citizens have a right to videotape police, as long as they are not interfering. Since that incident, she said, that point has been hammered home, starting with recruits in the police academy.
"You should expect to be videotaped the minute your police car rolls out onto the street," she said.
She said officers should welcome citizens recording them, because those videos could end up assisting police.
"If you’re doing what you are supposed to be doing as a police officer, those cameras don’t play a role at all," she said. "And they can actually help you out."
Robinson said he considered suing police for violating his First Amendment rights to record the officers, but ended up talking it out with them instead.
"I would say, at that particular time, the officers were having an off day," he said. "That's understandable. We're friends now."