In a move to help guard civilians against police officers who may abuse their power, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, or ACLU-NJ, released the Police Tape app this week, enabling regular citizens to secretly record or video the interactions they have with cops.

The civil rights organization rolled out the app in time for the July 4 holiday. It said this is because altercations often happen between citizens and seasonal police at the shore during the summer vacation season.

This app provides an essential tool for police accountability, ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs said. Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported, because citizens don't feel that they will be believed. Here, the technology empowers citizens to place a check on police power directly.

How The App Polices The Police

Police Tape is an Android app that discreetly records audio and video. It disappears from the device screen when the recording begins so as to prevent officers from attempting to delete the information. A copy of the video or audio is kept on the phone, but users can also send the recording to the ACLU-NJ as a backup. The app screen has three buttons: One provides a tutorial on knowing your rights, while the other two are for video and audio recordings.

The app was developed by watchdog group OpenWatch.

A version for Apple's iOS platforms will be released later this summer pending the smartphone maker's approval.

New York Chapter Released Similar App

New Jersey isn't the only state where citizens can conduct this form of reverse surveillance on officers.

The New York chapter of the ACLU released a similar app last month. That app, known as the Stop-and-Frisk Watch app, aims to help people hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful stop-and-frisk encounters and other police misconduct.

That app is available to users in both English and Spanish and has recording, listening and reporting capabilities.

The ACLU has been trying for years to police the police. The group has numerous lawsuits with law enforcement agencies believed to have misused their power. 

ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom said images of police mistreating citizens have historically led to changes. Shalom cited the Rodney King incident as an example, during an interview with CBS New York.

King was harshly beaten by police in Los Angeles following a traffic stop in 1991. The incident was caught on tape and aired on the news, sparking riots over the police brutality. 

For years, we've watched the police on video, and that has led to reforms and police accountability, but now that cellphones and smartphones are becoming more ubiquitous, people have this ability to videotape, Shalom told CBS New York. It really is a cutting-edge tool to ensure accountability in the 21st century.

Photos and video are critical to ensuring police accountability, and police should know that the eyes of the public are on them at all times, Shalom added.

The Police Tape app is available for download at this link.