Is the Cell 411 app a threat to officer safety?

Cell 411 could prove be deadly for civilians and law enforcement


Background: In August of 2015, a new app was published for iPhone and Android users which allows users to alert friends if they are being arrested, involved in a traffic stop, “CopBlocking,” and other similar incidents. The app will allow the user to also provide turn-by-turn directions using Google Maps for friends to get to their location, as well as to provide a live video stream of whatever incident they are involved in.

Initial Observations
The developer indicates their app helps people organize themselves in order to manage and respond to emergencies. Through a review of the app, we found other uses for the app which may pose a threat to law enforcement officers and civilians, if used for unlawful or antagonistic purposes by activists, demonstrators or anti-law enforcement personnel, such as “cop blockers.” 

Law Enforcement Concerns
Based on the provided picture on the app’s details page, as well as when you first open the app, you will see the options available to the user to quickly notify, in a single touch, activities such as: 

  • I am pulled over
  • I am CopBlocking
  • Police arrest
  • Stuff on Fire
  • Criminal Activity
  • Live Video
The developer indicates their app helps people organize themselves in order to manage and respond to emergencies. (LawEnforcement.Social Image)
The developer indicates their app helps people organize themselves in order to manage and respond to emergencies. (LawEnforcement.Social Image)

Once an option, such as selecting being pulled over or police arrest, is selected, a screen appears allowing the user to select who they would like to inform, such as:

Public Cells - These are groups of people the user selects, such as neighborhoods, certain friends, gangs, etc.

Global Alert - Notify anyone with the app installed on their phone with the “Patrol Mode” activated and within 50 miles of your location will be notified. 

All Friends - Notify all of your friends, which may include the global alert.

After making the selection, the user has the opportunity to add a note and send it out to other users of the app. 

What Happened During Our Review? 
We selected the option, “I am pulled over,” selected the “Global Alert” option and pressed send. We immediately received a notification on our screen that 100 users had been notified.

Within seconds, received other users sending us messages, such as whether they could help or not, and what their ETA to the traffic stop would be.

We also noticed an option appeared on the app to let everyone know that the user was “okay.” This appears to be a “call off the troops” button to let people know they don’t need to respond.

Live Video Stream Alert
After we cleared the messages, a pop-up alert appeared on our screen in red, asking us if we wanted to stream video to everyone on the app.

The Options Screen
Users have the options to have the following options activated when using the app, such as: 

New Public Cell Alert - Users will receive an alert whenever a new public cell is created by the user’s location. Users are required to turn on their location updates. 

Patrol Mode - Also using location updates, this will notify the user of any Cell 411 alerts within the “patrol radius” specified by the user, which is up to 50 miles.

Social Media Sharing - This option allows the user to share the alert on their social media accounts.

Dispatch Mode - This allows the user to pick a custom location whenever issuing an alert.

Delete Video Option - Turning this feature on will enable the fake delete button on video alerts in the Alerts tab. 

Location Updates - This causes your location to be updated on the device. Presumably, this would update other users as to if the arrested user is being transported. to jail or another location. 

Know Your Rights Screen
According to the app, if the user is in an encounter with the police, and they need a quick reminder about what their constitutional rights are, the user simply needs to tap on the icon on the lower left side of the map, which will pull up a document with 5 tips.

Erasing of Live Stream Video
Per the application, to protect the video footage in case the device is stolen or “erase evidence of wrongdoing, videos are stored on the app developers servers.”

About The Video Delete Button 
Per the apps FAQ page, the delete video button is a fake button in case the user is “under duress or in a situation where police or other actors are forcing you to erase video, you can use the fake erase button to lead them to believe the video was removed.”

Government Contacts and Tracking
The app mentions that as long as you don’t issue an alert or have government agents on your friends list (on the app,) it will not send out your coordinates to be stored on any of their servers.        

Points To Consider 
As with all stops, make sure to be aware of your surroundings and the sudden arrival of vehicles and subjects 
When transporting subjects, be cognizant of the potential to be followed or your arrestee to be lynched by “rescuers” who may be getting real-time location updates from the phone, if in the same vehicle as the arrestee
Consider having a source for counter-intelligence to notify you if an alert goes out in your area. You will only be notified if the alert is sent out globally to all Cell 411 users

Who Should Be Concerned

  • Patrol officers
  • Traffic officers
  • Narcotics officers
  • Gang officers
  • SWAT Teams
  • Prisoner transport officers 

About the author

Officer Mike Bires has been a police officer for more than 20 years in Southern California. Along with working assignments in corrections, SWAT, bike patrol, and as a field training officer, Mike is currently a university resource officer for a large university. Having a background in website design and development, he is on the Azusa Police Department’s Social Media Team and is the developer of their website. He is also the founder of LawEnforcement.Social, which is a law enforcement social media resource website.”

You can follow Mike on Twitter at @iSocialCop.

Contact Mike Bires

  1. Tags
  2. Community Policing
  3. Patrol Issues

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