A Chicago startup wants to let citizens rate and review interactions with police officers, a la Yelp.
The Excuse Me Officer website, and its upcoming mobile app, could provide data about heroic officers providing good service as well as about bad actors who might discriminate or sexually harass, said CEO Channing Harris.
The startup won this month’s South Side Pitch competition, hosted by the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship.
In a test period that ran from August through last week, users could leave online reviews, videos and tips regarding civilian-police interactions.
“We allow the public to keep up with the law enforcement behavioral trends happening in our own communities,” Harris said.
The database will combine public ratings with Chicago Police Department data on police misconduct allegations. (About 56,459 allegations were sent to the CPD from 2012 to 2015; 95.9 percent of them were found unsustained, according to the site.)
An iOS app is scheduled to be launched Dec. 5.
Features include emergency contacts that can alert lawyers or loved ones when and where a person is stopped and, if arrested, which precincts they are headed to. If a user reports a negative interaction, the app advertises a list of lawyers.
“If you see me getting harassed and you have video, you now can get it over to me, and I can get the support that I need,” Harris said. “It’s the easiest and most efficient way to report any type of police mishap.”
It’s also a way of going on record to salute good cops, he said.
“As a child of a police officer, I struggled for an answer to the madness that was happening in my city,” Harris said. “Police-public relations were hitting an all-time low due to the Laquan McDonald situation being revealed.”
The business promotes activities to improve citizen-police relationships. Excuse Me Officer sponsored a block party in August to bring community residents and police officers together.
“We can show you there are indeed cops that serve and protect and which ones they are,” Harris said. “Our platform loves good cops.”
Such an app could be effective, provided there’s a way to vet users, said Clarence E. Cox III, vice president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Harris’ mother is president of a local chapter of the organization.
“I think it can help if done in the right way: If there’s legitimacy to the app and there’s an opportunity for the sender to be contacted later to address the issue,” Cox said.
And it should have a way to measure the numbers of complaints to the numbers of interactions officers have, he said.
Dean Angelo Sr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Chicago lodge, said he hopes the developers promote the ability to give police officers favorable reviews.
“If (Harris) said he developed it to bring out better relationships, it would be great if he markets that prominently, so that people realize this is an app for people to engage in that type of sharing one’s positive experiences with the police,” he said.
“The negative stuff; it’s sometimes the same voices repeatedly sharing experiences,” Angelo said. “Similar to the accountability task force sessions and those public forums — people that come to every event and speak at multiple sessions.”
Harris, who grew up in North Lawndale, is a serial entrepreneur who sold his stake in his first company, Socks to Your Door, to a cofounder at age 19. He’s now 26.
Excuse Me Officer plans to make money through advertisements, merchandise sales and providing customized data for organizations, he said.
His team includes co-founders Mike Shaw, from the Englewood neighborhood, and Christopher Hutchinson, from Rogers Park.
Although Excuse Me Officer can receive reviews from across the nation, it’s starting by providing data for Chicago communities. It hopes to expand to other cities in 2017.
Cheryl V. Jackson is a freelance writer.