Excuse me?

This app wants to become the Yelp for police in Chicago. There are a lot of problems with that.

Excuse Me Officer

Earlier this month, Channing Harris, a Chicago-based entrepreneur, and his team of developers placed first in the city’s annual South Side Pitch competition with Excuse Me Officer, a crowdsourced rating application for the police.

What Yelp does for businesses, Excuse Me Officer (XMO) wants to do for people’s interactions with the police. Users can describe and rate their experiences with officers with either Excuse Me Officer’s mobile app or its website.

Speaking to DNAInfo, Harris explained that he was driven to create the platform by a desire for increased accountability from the police after a close friend of his was attacked and beaten by an off-duty officer so brutally that it left her with a ruptured appendix. When other officers arrived on the scene, Harris said, his friend was handcuffed and taken into custody despite the severity of her injuries.

As the son of a police officer, Harris told the site, he was deeply invested in making it easier for people to truly see the police as human beings.

“I want to show the hero cops and the bad cops,” he said. “The media wants to focus on the bad story so much that the hero cops get ignored.”

Channing Harris presenting Excuse Me Officer at South Side Pitch.South Side Pitch

Channing Harris presenting Excuse Me Officer at South Side Pitch.

After winning $4000 in seed money from South Side Pitch, Harris and his team are moving forward with Excuse Me Officer’s development and aim to launch their app this winter.

It’s easy to understand Excuse Me Officer’s feel-good appeal and why Google is currently considering it for another round of funding to the tune of $100,000. In an ideal world, officers would regard their scores much in the same way that restaurants do their Yelp scores: as a reflection of their quality that could directly impact their personal and professional success.

But encounters with the police are fundamentally different experiences than going out for dinner at a new restaurant. While Excuse Me Officer might make sense in situations in which a person calls the police for relatively minor complaint, the same might not be true for a more serious situation in which things escalate very quickly and people don’t have the opportunity to talk things out, collect an officer’s information, and then write a review of their experience.

For example, how would Excuse Me Officer have helped Philando Castile, Korryn Gaines, Tamir Rice, or the dozens of other people who were shot dead mere moments after police arrived on the scene? Clearly, none of them would be able to write reviews themselves, and the officers involved don’t exactly have the most compelling reason to be entirely transparent and up front with the public in situations involving hasty decisions that lead to unnecessary deaths.

Even in instances in which the police don’t kill someone, one has to consider the potential downsides that Excuse Me Officer presents. Because the platform is being developed independently from the Chicago Police Department, there are no direct lines of communication or accountability between the two groups, meaning that a low XMO score wouldn’t translate to any official review or investigation from the CPD. It’s an answer to widespread concerns about police brutality against black people that places an emphasis on the community itself, rather than the government, to hold officers accountable for their actions.

What’s more, there’s no way of ensuring that an XMO user who leaves an officer a negative rating would be safe from a form of retaliation. Yelp is currently in the process of trying to protect its users from being sued for defamation over negative business reviews, but the stakes are very, very different for something like Excuse Me Officer—which at its core, is a tool meant to discourage bad policing.

Excuse Me Officer isn’t marketing itself as a silver bullet that can solve institutionalized racism, violence, and corruption within a police system, but as an attempt as creating a solid line of communication between a community and those tasked with protecting them. In order order for that communication to lead to more than just polite praise for officers doing their jobs well, though, it’ll have to be part of a two-way, collaborative effort and not just a one-sided show of good faith.

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