• DC Businesses Ditch Crime Fighting App After Cries Of Racism

    Retailers in one of Washington, D.C.’s most popular upscale shopping destinations are ditching an app used to fight shop lifting after calls of racism.

    Retail workers at the strip of stores along Georgetown’s waterfront use the app called GroupMe to report suspicious behavior directly to police officers in the area, but were forced to stop after some said the practice leads to racial profiling, WTOP reports.

    Workers and managers at stores like Anthropologie, Brooks Brothers and J. Crew use the group messaging app to warn each other and police about potential shoplifters in their stores. If employees see something suspicious or needed police assistance, they can directly message police officers in the area via the app.

    The tool led to what critics believe is unfair racial profiling of black people in the overwhelmingly-white neighborhood.

    WTOP obtained a letter from Joe Sternlieb, CEO of Georgetown Business Improvement District, a non-profit organization chartered by neighborhood businesses, telling businesses to abandon the app despite its usefulness in combating theft.

    “While the app has been effective in deterring shoplifting, the news stories and the dialogue that followed have brought up legitimate concerns about the use of the app and its potential to wrongfully identify shoppers as shoplifters,” Sternlieb wrote. “The overriding goal of our retail community is to ensure that everyone who visits Georgetown feels welcomed, comfortable, safe, and that their civil rights and individual dignity are protected and respected.”

    According to Sternlieb, the BID’s executive committee decided to take the app off-line while they review recent complaints of racial profiling.

    In August, neighborhood paper The Georgetowner launched an investigation into the app’s use that brought to light what some say are complaint statistics that amount to racial profiling among store employees.

    According to The Georgetowner analysis, 330 people were mentioned as potential shoplifters in group messages between Georgetown stores and police officers between March 1, 2015 and July 5, 2015. Of those mentions, 236, or nearly three-quarters, were identified as black people.

    Just 16 white people, or less than half of 1 percent of the mentions, were flagged as suspicious.

    The Washington Post conducted another investigation of the messages sent since Jan. 1, 2015, and found similar results. Nearly 70 percent of the people mentioned in messages were black, but employees provided little if any evidence to back up their claims of suspicious behavior.

    In order to combat this perceived racism, BID is going to develop a new set of rules for who is allowed to use the app to connect with police. Employees will also have to endure a “robust anti-racial-profiling training program” before receiving access to a new version of the app.

    “Only after this work has been completed, and we can determine that a tool like the GroupMe app can be deployed to effectively meet the highest standards of professionalism and protection of all Georgetown’s customers, will we revisit putting it back on line,“ Sternlieb wrote.

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