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Frequently Asked Questions

Categories: General | Complaint Process | Law Enforcement | Attorneys



General Questions


What can users do with OpenPolice.org?

OpenPolice.org allows users to ...

  • Prepare and save a precise and complete police conduct report
  • Upload photos, documents, video, and other evidence
  • File your official report as easily as possible and within a department's policies
  • Publish your report online with privacy settings that fit your needs
  • Match your report with civil rights attorneys
  • Share your report with your social network


Can users submit compliments to the police instead of complaints?

Yes! We love constitutional and community-oriented policing. That's why we also encourage users to submit compliments featuring one or more commendations. This is a shorter process but it has the same privacy options and formal submission as complaints.

Users filing a complaint who create a thorough Gold Star complaint are also given an opportunity to provide this kind of positive feedback about any officer involved in their complaint.

  • Valor
  • Lifesaving
  • De-escalation
  • Professionalism
  • Fairness
  • Constitutional Policing
  • Compassion
  • Community Service


When will you launch the OpenPolice.org app?

We plan to release a public version of the web app in the first half of 2019. We are currently user testing a private version of the app with recent victims of police misconduct.



Will you publish officers' names with complaints?

Of all the questions that we get about OpenPolice.org, this one is the most important and controversial. In short, the public benefits of openness and transparency far outweigh the arguments in favor of police secrecy. Therefore, in some situations, we will allow users to publish the names and descriptions of officers on our website. All complaints will feature a disclaimer about the nature of the allegations and the known status of any official investigatory actions.

This type of data transparency, where individual officers are connected to individual complaints, is vital to the public interest. In recent years, some government agencies have gestured toward transparency by releasing "de-identified" records that can't be traced back to specific officers. But for the people whose police encounters build up such data sets, the big-picture trends are less important than revealing the names and histories of the officers who violated their rights. Moreover, such de-identified data makes it impossible to identify specific officers with a history of problematic behavior.



How will you deal with false and abusive complaints?

As a general rule, we believe that police agencies should be responsible for investigating the truthfulness of complaints filed against their officers. We, on the other hand, must approach evaluation of new complaints with a light touch.

As new complaints arrive, our human administrators flag spam, abuse, or reports that have nothing whatsoever to do with police matters. We will also flag certain "frequent filers" who create repeat or frivolous complaints. If complaints pass this initial evaluation, we will help users to submit them to appropriate department investigators. (Such complaints will then be published on our website in accordance with the privacy settings of individual users.)

At this point, the responsibility of investigating these complaints falls with the law enforcement agency. If an investigation reveals that the complaint is without merit, agencies have opportunities to publish their findings with OpenPolice.org. Through this process, departments can openly and transparently address all complaint allegations.



How do you keep track of 18,000 police departments?

Thanks to our team of skilled volunteer researchers, we are building the nation's most comprehensive open-source directory of police departments. This directory tool allows us to automatically submit new user complaints to appropriate department contacts — if any are available. It also keeps track of the specific ways that departments accept — or don't accept — complaints.

Collecting up-to-date data on all 18,000 police departments is a long-term objective. Fortunately, we don't need to have data on all 18,000 departments for the service to work. That's because we've built a rapid-response system that allows researchers to quickly gather data on departments not yet in our system. So if, for example, we receive a new complaint against a tiny not-yet-documented department, our researchers can gather data for that user within 24 hours.

Learn how to become an OpenPolice.org rapid-response research volunteer here!



Can I download an iOS or Android version of the app?

Not yet. We've built the first version of OpenPolice.org as a mobile-responsive web app. So the software is accessible on any type of web browser, operating system, or mobile device. We'd like to eventually build downloadable native apps for Android and iOS if public demand and funding makes this possible.



Does the app record video?

OpenPolice.org does not record or store video. However, when users create OpenPolice.org reports, they can share links to video evidence uploaded to popular video sites such as YouTube or Vimeo.



Are you prepared for police to sue you?

Yes. We understand that we are likely to be sued by police officers who will claim that complaints published on our website are false and defamatory. In anticipation of this, we've partnered with pro bono defamation attorneys to help minimize our legal exposure. Our attorneys advise us against publishing too many details of our strategy. However, we've developed OpenPolice.org in a manner that protects us from defamation claims under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).



How do you make money from this?

This project is free to the public, because we believe that open and accessible information about police actions and behavior is essential to secure public trust in law enforcement. For ongoing operations, we depend on (tax-deductible!) private donations.



How I can contribute?

We are currently looking for collaborators, partners, and investors. If you're an app developer or web designer, we'd love to talk to you about contributing to the site's development. (Check out our Github repo, and more about the software's technical specifications.) Please email us if you're interested!

You can also make a tax-deductible donation here.




The Complaint Process


What happens when users file reports with OpenPolice.org?

We aim to make it as easy as possible for users to file reports directly with police department investigators. The challenge is that there are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. Each one has it's own rules for how they accept — or don't accept — reports that can be investigated.

The goods news is that OpenPolice.org has built a crowdsourced knowledge base containing information about these department rules. This tool makes it easy as possible for users to submit an official report to the appropriate department contact. But regardless of how departments accept reports, OpenPolice.org allows users to publish their reports on our website with privacy settings that fit their needs. So even if certain departments disregard user complaints, these reports will be forever visible to the public.



What if police departments ignore OpenPolice.org reports?

We look forward to working with departments that accept OpenPolice.org reports. But we understand that many departments have broken oversight systems that disregard police misconduct complaints. Either way, we will prompt users who submit complaints to report back to us about how departments are responding.

As we gather and track thousands of new user complaints, we'll be able to publicly track how individual officers interact with the public. We'll also begin to see important police behavioral trends across all police jurisdictions in the United States. At the same time, we'll be able to see how well — or how poorly — individual departments are responding to reports of police misconduct. In other words, OpenPolice.org will provide open source oversight of police oversight!



What can users do with OpenPolice.org?

We believe that victims of police misconduct must control who has access to their private information. Different users will have different privacy needs, so we've developed three unique privacy options that control how we collect and share and individual user's data. Victims can publish their complaint with full transparency, no names made public, or complete anonymity. See how these privacy options appear to new users.

No matter which option users select, we'll never publish anyone's private information. (This includes addresses, phone numbers, emails, etc.) We will only share this with appropriate agencies who can investigate your complaint.



Can users submit anonymous reports?

Absolutely. Police misconduct victims who fear police retaliation can submit OpenPolice.org complaints anonymously. These complaints don't require users to share personally-identifiable information with us or police departments. Neither OpenPolice.org staff nor investigators will receive contact information from anonymous complainants. But they can submit crucial details about the incident — including officer names and descriptions — which OpenPolice.org will only share with investigative agencies.



How can we track officers associated with anonymous complaints?

Approved community organizers can create OpenPolice.org affiliate accounts to collect local complaints. Such organizers can see the full details of these reports — including officer's names. With equal access to complaints data, they will have more power to pressure local officials to take appropriate action when problematic behavior gets reported.

For public reporting, OpenPolice.org can track unpublished officers using assigned identification numbers. These will help organizers and third-party researches to, for example, spot a single officer engaging in repeat sexual harassment of female motorists.



Will you sell my my data?

Definitely not! We respect your privacy and only collect the necessary information to create a police report in accordance with users' privacy needs.



What types of police misconduct are you tracking?

During the basic complaint process, users can make allegations of various types of police misconduct:

Tier 1

  • Sexual Assault
  • Unreasonable Force
  • Wrongful Arrest
  • Wrongful Property Seizure or Damage

Tier 2

  • Sexual Harassment
  • Intimidating Display of Weapon
  • Wrongful Search
  • Wrongful Entry
  • Wrongful Detention

Tier 3

  • Bias-Based Policing
  • Retaliation
    • Unnecessary Charges
  • Conduct Unbecoming an Officer
  • Officer Discourtesy
    • Profanity
  • Neglect of Duty
  • Policy or Procedure Violation
    • Officer failed to provide ID upon request



For Law Enforcement


I got an email linking to a complaint against my department. What should I do next?

When you receive an emailed report from OpenPolice.org, you should see a special link and a temporary key code. After you go to the special link page, enter the key code to access the detailed complaint (or compliment) report. From there, you can view, download, and print the detailed report.

If your office can investigate the complaint ...
We encourage your office to promptly investigate it. If possible and appropriate, investigators should contact the complainant to confirm their identity and corroborate their testimony. Then, within a reasonable period of time, our users expect to receive a final disposition letter that includes the details of your investigation's findings.

We encourage users to upload investigation findings and attach them to their complaints. This allows OpenPolice.org visitors to see which allegations were sustained or unfounded.

If your investigative agency creates an authenticated user account on OpenPolice.org, you will also be able to instantly upload the findings of your investigations. Participating in this clearinghouse for complaints is a great way to engage with the community and build trust.

If your office cannot investigate the complaint ...
If your department cannot investigate this complaint as is, please tell us why. We can then update your department's complaint submission information on OpenPolice.org. We can also let the user know that they need to submit their complaint another way.



Can I integrate OpenPolice.org reports into my department's system?

Yes! We make it easy to integrate OpenPolice.org data into most police software systems.

OpenPolice.org provides a computer-readable XML export of all the data in the complaint.

We will be building more exports to be imported in software commonly used by police investigative agencies. But a geek on your team is already empowered to check out the tech stuff and build a script to instantly import every future complaint into your pre-existing software.

A built-in API empowers the potential to automatically import OpenPolice.org complaints into your investigative agency's pre-existing software. The database design is well documented and the code is all open source.

Please contact us if you have any questions about OpenPolice.org's data integration tools. We might be able to help out.



You have incorrect information associated with my department's page listing or Accessibility Grade. How do I correct it?

We appreciate your feedback! Please send corrections and updates to info@flexyourrights.org with "Department Update" in the subject line. We will update your department's score and grade accordingly.



A false allegation is connected to my name or department. How do I remove remove it?

All complaints submitted to OpenPolice.org are authored by third-party users. As such, we have no knowledge of the truth or falsity of individual complaints (or allegations within complaints.) Therefore, we will only consider requests to remove or redact complaint information under rare and narrow circumstances.

Before you or your attorney consider submitting such a request, we urge you to familiarize yourself with Section 230 of the the Communications Decency Act (CDA). It states that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider." In other words, we cannot be held liable for the content our users' post to this site.

We will only consider requests for removal or redaction that fulfill all the following requirements:

  • Requests must be submitted via PDF on appropriate law enforcement agency letterhead to removals@flexyourrights.org.
  • Requests must include the URL link and complaint number of the complaint in question.
  • Requests must include the name and contact information of both subject officers and their attorneys.

If your request fulfills all the above requirements, we will submit it to our pro bono legal team for review.




For Attorneys


How can attorneys use OpenPolice.org for the intake process of potential police misconduct cases?

Victims of police misconduct can use OpenPolice.org to create a comprehensive report about their incident, and have it emailed to their attorney. After they and/or their attorney have downloaded a PDF and raw complaint data file, our server's copy of the user's data is anonymized.