Section III

Crowdsourcing Tools Affecting Criminal Justice

Crowdsourcing projects affect public safety, police oversight, and legal research. While some of these tools could be, and are, used by system stakeholders, they differentiate themselves from the tools discussed in Section II by soliciting information from a broad and non-institutional set of users.

Public Safety Applications

Technology is increasingly used to collect and disseminate information about public safety. Several examples illustrate how law enforcement agencies play a role, from passive to active, in the deployment of these technologies.

Nextdoor is a social networking platform that includes a Crime and Safety section designed to mobilize neighborhood watches and to spread news about crime in neighborhoods and local communities. Already used by 77,000 communities, the platform operates independently of law enforcement. It allows neighbors to warn each other of package theft or vandalism in the neighborhood. The East Bay Express, however, warned that Nextdoor’s platform could also be used to aggravate racial tensions.


capture_solveacrime Solve a Crime is a crowdsourced crime-solving tool. Launched in February 2015, the platform recruits police departments and retailers around the country to post unsolved crimes on the website and to receive tips from the community to find suspects. Retailers pay fees to post crimes to the site and either the local police departments or the retailer can offer rewards to anyone providing information that leads to arrests or convictions. According to Daniel Santell of Solve a Crime, the platform plans to add a facial recognition service based on a nationwide mugshot database the company is compiling.


See Something Send Something is used by law enforcement agencies to crowd source crime tips, specifically in regards to terrorism. Currently used by several states, the platform allows a user to send a geo-tagged picture or note regarding something suspicious to a predetermined law enforcement agency which judges the urgency and applicability of the tip. A searchable database of tips is accessible only by law enforcement.


Police Oversight Applications

Since Occupy Wall Street and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, interest in apps that document and/or notify communities about police-citizen interactions has exploded.

I’m Getting Arrested, originally launched in 2011, was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Protesters wanted to be able to tell their friends and families immediately if they had been arrested and the app was designed to send group text messages with one push of a screen button. Jason van Aden, the app’s creator, described it as a panic button. This tool continues to evolve.


The Stop and Frisk app, created by the New York Civil Liberties Union, allows bystanders to film police officers engaging in stop and frisk actions. The perceived success of the Stop and Frisk app led the ACLU to create additional apps for broader police oversight. The Mobile Justice app allows individuals to film interactions with police officers and a video file is immediately uploaded to cloud storage operated by the local ACLU chapter. The app also includes a “know your rights” section that individuals may read before interacting with the police.


Five-O lets users rate their local police department and its officers based on recent interactions, much like how Yelp users rate local businesses. According to the app’s developers, Five-O does not currently allow for filming.


Legal Research Applications

Several well-known legal research tools have been produced by Bloomberg, Westlaw, and LexisNexis, but their costs are often prohibitive. SCOTUS Mapper and RECAP are lesser known, but free applications.

SCOTUS Mapper allows users to visualize the ancestry of Supreme Court precedent. The program maps the citations in a given case to reveal connections between arguments. The resulting diagram provides up to three degrees of precedent separation back to 1947. The program includes a project called “Hacking the 8th Amendment,” which maps 8th Amendment doctrine and helps litigators to formulate arguments. The app retains an archive of user-generated maps.


RECAP is a Firefox and Chrome plugin that crowdsources the collection of legally purchased documents from PACER, the federal court system’s court document database. The plugin runs in the background, automatically making a copy of documents downloaded from PACER. With that copy, the software scrapes the documents for relevant information to index it in a public archive.


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