During his 30-year career with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Douglas Parker spent a lot of time questioning law enforcement officers about their use-of-force incidents. One thing he learned from such investigations was that the officers’ reports often left out a critical part of the story: what they were thinking at the time of the incident.
“Graham v. Connor requires insight into the perception of the officer to determine if the use of force was objectively reasonable given the totality of circumstances. Police use-of-force investigations are not about the who, what, when, and where. We already know that. What we need to know is the why,” Parker says.
Helping officers provide their attorneys with that “why” in situations where the officers may be sued or prosecuted is the reason that Parker founded Seven Eight Technologies and dedicated the time, capital, and resources to develop a web-based app that can run on a phone, tablet, or computer called Thin Blue Defend. Developed in consultation with experts, Thin Blue Defend guides law enforcement officers through the process of documenting the details of use-of-force incidents on a web-based app so that if they need that information later they will have it.
“The app actually prompts the officer as to what types of information they need to capture for the situation involved,” Parker explains. “It’s a framework that allows you to describe what took place by choosing what information to capture with dropdown menus.” The app is very detailed and it helps officers capture small but critical details of the event. Users can vocally record their responses or they can type in information. They can also take photos outside of the area under control of the investigating agency such as images of injuries they suffered during an attack. All of the data is stored in the cloud and not on the officer’s device.
Because the information is stored in the cloud. The court cannot subpoena the officer’s phone, tablet, or computer for evidence and see what the officer put in the app. To see the actual information, the court would have to subpoena the cloud service.
Parker recommends that officers write the names and phone numbers of their attorneys in the app. This makes it very difficult for any plaintiff’s attorney to subpoena the officer’s phone or the information from the cloud because it is “attorney-client work product,” Parker contends. For more serious cases such as shootings, he suggests officers sit down with their attorneys and have their attorney enter the information into the app.
Thin Blue Defend was developed over five years in consultation with attorneys and with the Columbia County (GA) Sheriff’s Office. The Columbia County SO was also first to test the app. “We are dedicated to providing our officers with the tools they need to do their jobs correctly and protect themselves physically and legally,” says Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle. “[Thin Blue Defend] helps ensure that the officer can provide the detail that may verify the legitimacy of their actions and influence a favorable outcome so they can continue in their law enforcement career.”
Parker says seven entire departments with a total of about 440 officers are currently using Thin Blue Defend, and he expects that number to rise quickly. “We’ve got many departments wanting it, but they have to wait for the yearly budget process.”
Thin Blue Defend is a software as a service (SaaS) product. Subscriptions are available for individual officers or for agencies, the app is available for Android and Apple devices. All information saved in the app is stored in a government cloud that can only be accessed with multi-factor authentication.