CLEVELAND - Traffic stops are consistently one of the most stressful and dangerous situations for both police officers and the citizens they serve, but a new smartphone app might change that dynamic.
The free app is called 'Shortcuts' and can be used to create a number of them on iPhones for everything from music to contacts. However, one shortcut called 'Police' is getting a lot of attention.
“I think it’s great because it tells both sides of the story,” said driver Suzy Buckley.
Once downloaded, the user records a message like, “Siri I’m being pulled over.”
Whenever that phrase is then used, the shortcut will open and turn on the video camera and begin recording in 'Do Not Disturb mode.'
It also notifies a predetermined contact that you are being stopped by the police and sends the video to either that person or a selected location like the Cloud or Dropbox.
“Now we have some kind of independent corroboration,” said Attorney Sarah Gelsomino. “This app secures that video in a way that’s unique.”
Attorney Christopher McNeal likes the app because drivers no longer have to rely on police dashcam or other surveillance videos that may or may not exist.
Not every department has cameras, and sometimes they’re broken or turned off.
McNeal represents a Cleveland man whose traffic stop by a Euclid police officer was captured on video and went viral.
McNeal says he was outraged when he first saw the video.
“This was a violent attack on our client," he said.
The officer was fired, but then rehired after arbitration. McNeal believes constant transparency is the only way to manifest change.
“Based on my experiences, rank and file police officers want the bad actors removed,” said McNeal. “It allows us to all become witnesses.”
That’s why an Arizona man named Robert Petersen originally designed the shortcut, “to keep everyone safe and honest."
So how do officers feel about being covertly recorded?
Mentor City Police Department Lt. Mike Majernik called traffic stops extremely dangerous, for a number of reasons.
“You’re on the side of the street, walking up to a complete unknown, and we don’t what their state of mind is if they have weapons on them," said Lt. Majernik.
He hoped people using the app would mount the phone on the dash or a cup holder so that they aren’t digging around for it as the officers approach, which could appear suspicious.
However, he has no problem with drivers using the app.
“It’s a good thing,” said Lt. Majernik. “We’re well aware of the fact we’re being recorded, so if somebody’s recording us, there’s no problem whatsoever. It’s a good thing.”
He said videos have helped exonerate wrongly-accused officers and also apprehend suspects, including a man who shot a Parma Heights officer during a traffic stop, and the suspect who struck an officer in a hit-and-run.
“Without that video, we still might be without a suspect in that case,” said Lt. Majernik.
The shortcut can also be configured to begin recording in other potentially dangerous situations. For example, if someone is following or stalking you.
“That would be nice,” said Paul Arbogast. “Then if something does happen, they know what happened leading up to it.”
The Shortcut app is currently only available for Apple iOS devices.