By Leesa Newbon and Giovanna da Silva
Transparency and government accountability are considered essential components to maintaining a healthy democracy and reducing corruption. With the rise of technological advancements in the digital media era, entrepreneurs can facilitate demands for transparency by developing online programs and apps that allow citizens to monitor government institutions and agencies. For example, Raheem AI, a chatbot powered by Facebook Messenger, enables citizens to anonymously report and rate their encounters with police officers, increasing transparency in law enforcement.
Brandon Anderson created Raheem AI in response to the fatal shooting of his romantic partner by police. Wanting to prevent this experience from happening to others, Anderson created the app in order to reduce and hold police accountable for misconduct.
Anderson’s concerns mirror general attitudes toward law enforcement. According to a Gallup poll conducted in July 2017, 57 percent of Americans said that they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police. While approval ratings overall have risen compared to 52 percent in 2015, survey responses from minorities, Democrats, and adults aged 18-34 indicate a significant decline in confidence compared to previous years. For instance, Hispanic approval dropped from 59 percent in 2012-2014 to 45 percent in 2015-2017, and black approval ratings decreased from 35 percent to 30 percent over the same period.
Raheem AI is designed to monitor civilians’ interactions with law enforcement officers. Through the Facebook Messenger chatbot, people can rate and provide anonymous feedback of their encounters with police. This encourages more people to report not only due to the convenience of the online app interface, but also the confidentiality it provides.
A driving force behind the creation of the app, Anderson says, was the idea that police officers could improve their approach to policing as citizens played a more active role in policing law enforcement and holding poorly rated officers accountable for their actions.Currently Raheem AI is in the beta testing phase in a few small police departments near Berkeley, California.
The Georgetown University Social Innovation and Public Service Fund (SIPS) provided grant money for Raheem AI. SIPS is a student driven program that supports Georgetown students and alumni striving to improve the world through social entrepreneurship. As Raheem AI began to gain notice, the White House also offered financial support to the project through My Brother’s Keeper, a program created by President Barack Obama to address the opportunity gaps faced by boys and men of color.
Social entrepreneurs such as Brandon Anderson are fundamentally altering the manner in which citizens interact with government institutions. User friendly programs focused on increasing transparency such as Raheem AI is just one example of how they are accomplishing this goal. In this way, they are well-suited towards bringing about meaningful social and political change.