Frequently Asked Questions

What is Open Police Complaints?

Open Police Complaints is an open-source web app empowering citizens to prepare, file, and track reports of police conduct.

What can users do with Open Police Complaints?

The Open Police Complaints web app 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 entire social network

When will you launch the Open Police Complaints app?

We plan to release a public version of the web app in the summer 2018. We are currently user testing a private version of the app with recent victims of police misconduct.

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.

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

Not yet. We’ve built the first version of Open Police Complaints 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?

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

What happens when users file reports with Open Police?

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 Open Police 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, Open Police 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 Open Police reports?

We look forward to working with departments that accept Open Police 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, Open Police will provide open source oversight of police oversight!

How will you deal with false and abusive complaints?

As a general principle, 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 will flag spam, abuse, or reports that have nothing whatsoever to do with police matters. We will also flag certain “frequent fliers” who create repeat or frivolous complaints from the same IP address. If complaints pass this 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 police department. If their investigation reveals that the complaint is without merit, they’ll have opportunities to publish their findings with Open Police. Through this process, departments can openly and transparently address all complaint allegations.

Can users post commendations too?

The current version of the app only allows users to build complaints against police. We will, however, add commendations to the next version. In fact, this important update has led us to change the name of the Open Police Complaints app to simply Open Police.

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 Open Police rapid-response research volunteer here!

Will you publish officers’ names with complaints?

Of all the questions that we get about Open Police, 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 the 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 abused them. Moreover, such de-identified data makes it impossible to identify the “bad apple” officers who need to be taken off the streets.

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 Open Police in a manner that protects us from defamation claims under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

How do you protect user privacy?

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?

Yes. See above section covering user privacy options.

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 is a Gold Star complaint?

The basic complaint process includes all the information that most departments need to investigate your complaint. But here are the benefits of taking a few more minutes to create a GOLD STAR complaint...

  • Dive deeper into your incident to paint a more complete picture
  • Create a more complete complaint that's even stronger for investigators
  • Receive custom information on the many things you can learn from this police encounter
  • Helps us to better track problematic police behavior in your community and nationwide!

Both the basic and the Gold Star complaints are free for users to file and publish.

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

Can users submit compliments to the police instead of complaints?

Yes! Users are not only empowered to submit and publish complaints about any police departement or officer. They can also give compliments (commendations) for excellent policing. 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