'These Things Happen Too Often': How an Encounter with Police Launched an App to Hold Cops Accountable

Yasmin Tayag
Yasmin Tayag is a science editor and writer. She was previously the lead editor of the Medium Coronavirus Blog and founding editor of Future Human, a publication about science and the future. She was also a senior editor at the health website Elemental and the tech website OneZero. Before that, she was the senior science editor at Inverse. She is most interested in biology, health, the future of food, and the intersection of science with racial and social justice.
'These Things Happen Too Often': How an Encounter with Police Launched an App to Hold Cops Accountable
Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

Tony Rice II was just a 17-year-old kid living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area when an officer approached his car with his gun drawn, saying he suspected the car was stolen.

"He pulled me over, came up to my car, and actually pulled a gun on me," said Rice. In the end, the officer still gave Rice a traffic ticket. It was only later he said he discovered there had been no corresponding reports of a stolen vehicle.

Rice and his family never filed a complaint about the interaction. "I think we were all just glad that it didn't result in a fatal encounter," said Rice, now 36, whose father grew up in the segregated South and whose mother is an immigrant from Haiti. "Unfortunately in my community, these things happen too often."

Tony Rice II

Unarmed founder Tony Rice II

Systemic racism was something that Rice couldn't avoid over the next two decades, even as he was building his career at Google and Deloitte and eventually with his own consulting firm, which helped cities launch tech projects with vendors such as Oracle. He said he was "just not sure how I could help address it."

Then, in 2020, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were killed by police. It dawned on Rice that he could leverage his personal and professional experience to address police violence in a meaningful way. "Knowing that could have been me," he said, "I thought I was uniquely positioned to create a technology project that could potentially help resolve this disparity."

He began developing Unarmed, an online platform that allows city government agencies to easily gather and manage civilian feedback about law enforcement, including cases involving use of force. The public often doesn't know that they can give feedback about police, he said, and even when they do, they don't know how to do so. He hopes streamlining the process will increase both access and awareness about these options.

So far, Rice has self-funded the company, and he plans to hold a family-and-friends funding round at the end of the second quarter. Though the launch of the completed product is slated for the end of this year, Rice points out that its major functionality is already finalized. "We could deploy tomorrow," he said, adding that the platform can be implemented quickly because it can be installed remotely rather than onsite.

Mock-up videos on the Unarmed website show a streamlined online platform where a user can select to file a "complaint" or a "compliment." Subsequent pages give civilians the option to either provide personal information or file anonymously, and to provide information about the incident, officers involved, details about witnesses and any photo or video evidence. Cases are submitted to a city's oversight officers and labeled with a tracking number, which allows users to check for updates.

Unarmed might seem like an obvious solution, but in many cities there are relatively few avenues for civilians to file complaints about police. While some cities have robust citizen complaint review boards (also known as civilian oversight agencies) that are external to police, most police departments log and review complaints internally.

Even though some departments have "very independent complaint review processes," said Jack Glaser, an expert on policing and racial justice at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, "it is very difficult to get a complaint 'sustained.'" Sustainment occurs when a complaint is found to be supported by sufficient factual evidence and deemed a policy violation. He said complaints about racial profiling in particular are almost never sustained.

Worse yet, Rice has found that while a few cities offer fillable PDFs or forms that can be printed out and submitted, many do not offer any online options and instead require civilians to manually log complaints at the police department, "which is obviously counterintuitive," he said. Further, he notes, many of these services are offered only in English and Spanish, excluding Americans who primarily speak different languages.

Designed with access in mind, Unarmed is geared toward cities that have stated their commitment to police reform. As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain traction, the number of such places appears to be growing. Last July in Kansas City, Mayor Quinton Lucas and city council members called on the police to provide data in order to create a publicly available use-of-force database. This still hasn't materialized, however, and the city's police chief is currently under fire for failing to deliver on these demands. With Unarmed, willing cities can organize and manage such databases so that they're positioned to have the biggest impact on police reform.

The platform isn't just for citizens; Rice said it can also be useful for police departments because it allows them to log and organize data that they are legally required to report. For instance, in Los Angeles, where Rice is based, police must submit race- and identity-related details of every person that an officer detains or searches — known as "stop" data— to the California attorney general every year. "There's a checklist of different items you need to include," said Rice, "so even including that also makes it more enticing to police departments." Currently, the Callifornia government recommends police use notebooks, mobile data terminals or mobile digital computers for this data collection but doesn't provide any tools.

Rice is "hopeful" that both cities and police departments will show interest in his product. "All I can do is do the outreach, and try to show the problems that exist today and the benefits of being on the platform," he said.

Cameron McEllhiney, director of training and education at the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, notes a major obstacle to Rice's project: Many cities have limitations regarding the investigation of third-party complaints, an issue that platforms similar to Unarmed have faced in the past. Nevertheless, she adds, "the adoption and implementation of effective, sustainable civilian oversight mechanisms is what we should be striving for."

Glaser sees promise in Unarmed, noting that "anything that standardizes and streamlines these processes will be a step in the right direction." But the real challenge will be ensuring that civilian feedback is registered and meaningfully adjudicated. "It's one thing to collect, categorize and store this information; it's another, and harder, thing to act on it," he said.

Optimistic about the future of Unarmed, Rice is likewise encouraged by the ongoing conversations about diversity in tech, which has led many companies to hire more diverse workers. "There's not a lot of us," he said. "I think it's not only about funding Black founders but Black founders that are making an impact, that can drastically impact people's lives."


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This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets
Andria Moore

On Wednesday, Techstars’ fall 2022 class gathered in Downtown Los Angeles to pitch their products to potential investors in hopes of securing their next big funding round. dot.LA co-sponsored the demo day presentation alongside Venice-based space news website Payload.

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Derek Jeter’s Arena Club Knocked a $10M Funding Round Right Out of the Park

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

sports trading cards
Arena Club /Andria Moore

Sports trading card platform Arena Club has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Co-founded by CEO Brian Lee and Hall of Fame Yankees player Derek Jeter, Arena Club launched its digital showroom in September. Through the platform, sports fans can buy, sell, trade and display their card collections. Using computer vision and machine learning, Arena Club allows fans to grade and authenticate their cards, which can be stored in the company’s vault or delivered in protective “slabs.” Arena Club intends to use the new cash to expand these functions and scale its operations.

The new funding brings Arena Club’s total amount raised to $20 million. M13, defy.vc, Lightspeed Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and BAM Ventures contributed to the round.

“Our team is thankful for the group of investors—led by M13, who see the bright future of the trading card hobby and our platform,” Lee said in a statement. “I have long admired M13 and the value they bring to early-stage startups.”

M13’s co-founder Courtney Reum, who formed the early-stage consumer technology venture firm in 2016 alongside his brother Carter Reum, will join Arena Club’s board. Reum has been eyeing the trading card space since 2020 when he began investing in what was once just a childhood hobby.

The sports trading card market surged in 2020 as fans turned to the hobby after the pandemic brought live events to a standstill. Since then, prices have come down, though demand remains high. And investors are still betting on trading card companies, with companies like Collectors bringing in $100 million earlier this year. Fanatics, which sells athletic collectibles and trading cards, reached a $31 billion valuation after raising $700 million earlier this week. On the blockchain, Tom Brady’s NFT company Autograph lets athletes sell digital collectibles directly to fans.

As for Arena Club, the company is looking to cement itself as a digital card show.

“Providing users with a digital card show allows us to use our first-class technology to give collectors from all over the world the luxury of being able to get the full trading card show experience at their fingertips,” Jeter said in a statement.

Is Airbnb’s New Push To Expand Short-Term Rentals Enough for Hosts To Combat LA’s City Policy?

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to amrita@dot.la or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
LA house

L.A.’s lax enforcement of Airbnbs has led to an surge of illegal short-term rentals — even four years after the city passed a regulation to crack down on such practices. But what if hosts lived in a building that welcomed Airbnb guests and short-term rentals?

That’s the idea behind Airbnb’s new push to expand short-term rental offerings. The company is partnering with a number of corporate landlords that agreed to offer “Airbnb-friendly” apartment buildings, reported The Wall Street Journal last week. According to the report, the new service will feature more than 175 buildings managed by Equity Residential, Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC and 10 other companies that have agreed to clear more than 175 properties nationwide for short-term rentals.

But prospective hosts in Los Angeles who decide to rent apartments from Airbnb’s list of more than a dozen “friendly” buildings in the city likely won’t earn enough to break even due to a combination of high rents, taxes and city restrictions on short-term rentals. Rents on one-bedroom apartments in most of the partnered buildings listed soared well over $3,000 a month. Only a few studios were available under the $2,000 price range. If a host were to rent a one bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $2,635 (which amounts to $31,656 annually), they would have to charge well over the $194 average price per night for Los Angeles (which amounts to $23,280 per year) according to analytics platform AllTheRooms.

Either way, residents who rent one of these Airbnb friendly apartments still have to apply for a permit through the City of Los Angeles in order to host on Airbnb.

“[..Airbnb-friendly buildings] seems like a good initiative. However, from a quick look, it seems that given the rent, Airbnb revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all expenses if the host follows the city’s policy,” says Davide Proserpio, assistant professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.

In addition, since L.A.’s 120-day cap on short-term rentals still applies to the buildings on Airbnb’s listing platform, that greatly limits the number of longer-term guests a resident can host. Not to mention, some of the buildings that Airbnb lists have even shorter limits – The Milano Lofts in DTLA for example only allows residents to host 90 nights a year.

Airbnb’s calculations of host earnings may be greatly misleading as well, given that the estimate doesn’t include host expenses, taxes, cleaning fees or individual building restrictions. For example, Airbnb estimates that a resident of a $3,699 one bedroom apartment at the Vinz in Hollywood that hosts 7 nights a month can expect $1,108 a month in revenue if they host year-round. But the Vinz only allows hosts to rent 90 days a year, which greatly limits the potential for subletters and a consistent income stream.

Keep in mind too that since the apartment will have to serve as the host’s “primary residence”, hosts will have to live there six months out of the year. All of which is to say, it’s unclear how renting an apartment in an “Airbnb-friendly” building makes hosting easier — especially in a city where illegal short-term rentals already seem to be the norm.