Meet the Teenage Sisters With an App to Prevent Police Brutality

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In the aftermath of Michael Brown's death and the ensuing unrest in Ferguson, sisters Asha and Ima Christensen (15 and 18, respectively) felt they had to do something. The two Macon, Georgia, high-school students have “dabbled” in computer science, code, and web design since middle school, and they decided to combine their self-taught tech skills with social consciousness to develop Five-O. It's a Yelp-like app that allows ordinary citizens to report interactions with their local police, with the goal of increasing awareness and accountability.

The Cut caught up with the sisters for a chat about their impressive summer vacation.

Asha and Ima Christensen

You own an app company, Pinetart, Inc. Besides Five-O, what kinds of apps are you creating?  
Ima Christensen: Our philosophy is just trying to keep solving problems with technology. We currently have two more apps in the pipeline. One app is called Coily — that’s a rate-and-review app for African-American women’s hair products. Another app that we have is called Froshly, and that’s an app for pre-frosh or pre-freshman wanting to interact with each other before they actually meet each other on campus.
 
But Five-O is your first app on the market?
I.C.: It’s fully released on the Google Online Store and available for download for Android. People have been responding to it, and we’ve been getting a lot of feedback. Our iOS will be available sometime next week.

Tell me how it works.
I.C.: It’s like Yelp. A big part of the app is being able to document your interactions with the officers. The user can input their interaction with the police officer, and describe their feelings in a section called "Creating an Incident Report." You’ll rate them on an A through F scale on professionalism and courtesy and can add your own personal comment about how you feel the interaction went. You categorize it by your county or zip code, so whenever someone else comes into the app, they can search by their zip code or their county and see the general rating, on a 4.0 scale, that their law enforcement agency has. We also have other functions like “Know Your Rights.” So if you’re ever dealing with a law enforcement officer and don’t know what rights you have, then you have this guide at your fingertips. And, lastly, we’ve created a community message board, which allows you to interact with the people in your community; for example, you can set a date or set an event for a future meeting for the people in your neighborhood and put in your zip code so that everyone has access to it.

So if I were in Ferguson, how would I use this app right now?
I.C.: This app would hopefully be used before a situation escalated. We’re more in the business of preventing it from happening.

Asha Christensen: Right. Because if there [had been] a way to review how that specific officer was behaving toward other people, his behavior could have been addressed much further before this specific event happened. It’s all about giving an example for people to model off law enforcement agencies with better positive reviews.

What was your personal reaction to the Michael Brown case? What about it made you want to move forward with this app?
I.C.: It’s devastating what happened. It’s definitely tragic and in some ways we’re still trying to process it. We’re channeling that into working on Five-O and making sure that we can effectively get it out.

A.C.: And we’ve had family members who have had some negative interactions with law enforcement before, but what has been going on more recently with Ferguson and the Eric Garner case really forced us to try and push it out and get it in the App Store at this time.   

There's a lot of anger toward the police right now. Are you worried the crowd-sourcing on Five-O could be skewed?
A.C.: We definitely want there to be a balance on our app. If people have a negative interaction with the police, they should document that. If someone has a positive interaction with the police, for example, an officer rescues your pet or is very courteous and professional — we want people to be able to document that, too.

There have been many other apps that are crowd-sourcing based — for example, Yelp. We feel like the more people that download and the more people that offer their opinions, the more accurate it will be.

I.C.: We also think that law enforcement officers are no better or worse than the average citizen, but they have power. What they choose to do with that power is what counts. We’re really hoping that we can bring visibility to all instances — good or bad.

Five-O is available for Android and soon-to-be released for the iPhone.

This interview has been edited and condensed.