Bad Apple FAQ in progress

Welcome to our Frequently Asked Questions page for the Bad Apple police accountability project – a project of the Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project and Priveasy.

The Bad Apple team will be answering questions and adding to this page on a daily basis. DM us a question to @AaronSwartzDay on twitter – or send us an email at info@badapple.com – or use our private tip form.

Why did we create a suite of easy-to-use police accountability tools?

All last year, in 2020, thousands witnessed police and sheriff departments across the United States using unnecessary violence and chemical weapons against protestors – in direct violation of international law (as explained in this report by Amnesty International).

We spent a few months doing research and asking everyone we knew what they thought might help the situation, and everyone told us that it seemed to them that the most violent officers and deputies were merely being moved around to different locations, rather than being properly disciplined for their actions. We were told that a database of misconduct would be helpful for tracking them from city to city.

We were also aware of more and more police and sheriff civilian oversight commissions being created, but when we looked for them, they were a little hard to find – and, if you did find them, their process was often a bit hard to understand. For these reasons, we felt that a central location for all of them would be very useful, especially for victims of violence, as it can be hard to conduct web research and find the right commission where a complaint can be filed.

On top of that, we discovered that many victims are afraid to file complaints with oversight commissions, for fear of retaliation. This led to our creation of a private tip form to enable people to send us the details about an officer or incident, so we can file a PRA request and a complaint on behalf of someone.

Why create a Bad Apple Database?

The Bad Apple database is an important tool for screening officers and ensuring that those who have records of misconduct aren’t simply shuffled around to new locations each time they have a sustained finding against them.

The Bad Apple database only contains information about officers who have been the subject of an official misconduct investigation—either by Internal Affairs or by a city or town’s local police or sheriff oversight commission.

What is the “Wandering Officer” problem?

As explained in this paper, the “Wandering Officer” problem refers to officers moving from city to city and how officers who have committed misconduct on the job are actually more likely to do it again after they have been moved to another town.

Where can I find Amnesty International’s report entitled USA: The World is Watching – Mass Violations By U.S. Police of Black Lives Matter Protestors’ Rights ?

Right here: USA: The world is watching: Mass violations by U.S. police of Black Lives Matter protesters’ rights.

Why create a police and sheriff oversight commission database?

This is a modified paragraph from the first question “why create a suite of tools” – and will be updated as that answer is updated:

As be became aware of more and more police and sheriff civilian oversight commissions being created, but when we looked for them, they were a little hard to find – and, if you did find them, their process was often a bit hard to understand. For these reasons, we felt that a central location for all of them would be very useful, especially for victims of violence, as it can be hard to conduct web research and find the right commission where a complaint can be filed.

Why does the Bad Apple website need a private tip form?

This is a modified paragraph from the first question “why create a suite of tools” – and will be updated as that answer is updated:

We discovered that many victims are afraid to file complaints with oversight commissions, for fear of retaliation. This led to our creation of a private tip form to enable people to send us the details about an officer or incident, so we can file a PRA request and a complaint on behalf of someone.

How does one use our PRA Template database with MuckRock to file a request for police or sheriff misconduct records?

Here’s how to use our PRA template database. This process was started by our ASDPSP project (The Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project) which teaches people how to file surveillance requests. It’s super easy to file them on MuckRock, using our template letters that literally turn the process into an easy cut and paste, due to the fact that MuckRock will automatically fill in the appropriate PRA law for your state at the top, when you enter the name of the local agency you wish to request information from (like “New York City Police Department”).

Here are the steps involved:

  1. Create an account on MuckRock
  2. Click on “File a request”
  3. Go to our template database and put in the city and select the subject of the request: Police Misconduct – based on Officer’s name, Police Misconduct – based on incident details, or based on a particular kind of surveillance equipment.
  4. Fill in the name of the agency
  5. Paste in the subject header from our database
  6. Cut and paste the template letter content into the body of the MuckRock request
  7. Double check it looks right
  8. Hit “send”

What is a PRA?

“PRA” stands for “Public Records Request” – which is like a FOIA request (Freedom of Information Act Request) at the state level. Every state has it’s own public records law which covers accessing records from government agencies generally. In addition, many states have implemented additional laws enabling misconduct records that were previously inaccessible – due to the records being considered “personnel records.” For instance, California has recently passed SB 1421. which….

What is a PRA template?

A “PRA Template” is just a pre-written letter worded just the right way to get results from a police or sheriff department regarding misconduct or surveillance equipment for a given department. The letters are all written by ASDPSP co-founder Tracy Rosenberg, based on her 10 years of experience filing PRAs – since Occupy in Oakland, California, back in 2011. Here’s a great interview with Tracy explaining how she became involved in filing public records requests and realized how they can be used as a powerful tool for police and sheriff accountability.

November 13-14, 2021 (Online)