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Louisville students developing ‘police encounter’ app in honor of Breonna Taylor

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 9:03 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - In cell phone video from March 13, 2020, a handful of neighbors captured chaos outside Breonna Taylor’s apartment.

Just moments before, Louisville Metro Police Department narcotics officers fired the fatal shots that killed the 26-year-old ER technician. They did not have on body cameras, though backup officers who responded following the shootout did.

The officers had forced their way into Taylor’s apartment, and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a shot in response. Walker ultimately shot LMPD Sgt. Jon Mattingly in the femoral artery, but Mattingly survived.

The subsequent shootout resulted in Taylor’s death after she was hit several times.

Walker was not injured and told investigators afterward that he thought the LMPD narcotics officers were home intruders.

Ashton Thompson, a 6th grade student at the W.E.B. Dubois Academy, told WAVE 3 he lived near Taylor.

“For me, it affects me, because I live across the street. I lived across the street from her,” he said. “That night it was just loud, and I don’t think they [police] should have did what they did.”

Thompson didn’t understand at the time what he saw outside his window, but he said detectives later questioned his family as to what they saw.

In the weeks following Taylor’s death, a number of witness accounts were used to paint a clearer picture of what happened, including whether or not officers knocked on Taylor’s door and identified themselves.

Nearly one year after that fateful night, Thompson hopes to prevent a similar situation by empowering those who witness police encounters. In an after-school app development club called Team Justice, Thompson is working with other students at DuBois and the Grace James Academy on a smartphone application that would record and share police encounters.

“If it happens again, we would actually have proof,” student Chmai Mayberry said. “It would show the perspective of the witness, and it would show video evidence so you’d be able to visually see.”

STEM teacher Buffy Sexton is helping students create the platform.

“We have a whole area of our town of our city that’s saying we’re being over-policed,” she told WAVE 3 News. “On [this] app, people will able to put in the time, date and place of an interaction with police.”

Students named the app PITCH-In, which stands for Police In The Community, Help! The idea was awarded an honorable mention in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition.

The application would encourage bystanders to record officer interactions, then crowdsource and compile photos, videos and other details.

“Whether it’s positive, negative, whatever,” Sexton said. “If somebody gets pulled over they can go ahead and film it; it’s just a way for us to get real-time data.”

Sexton said that data would ideally be sent to Louisville’s new LMPD Civilian Review Board to help investigate police incidents and influence policy or police training.

“I think they should look at the perspective of citizens, the citizens should give them suggestions on how to deal with situations,” student Amaris Johnson said.

Sexton explained her students have begun to design the app and have been in contact with community organizations that may be interested in using data from the app.

With more and more people recording police interactions in Louisville and across the country, Sexton said she hopes her students can change the way communities are policed.

“We want to be able to start that community conversation, we’re not doing anything new there. This is going to kind of give the data, the information,” she said.

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