Shortly after being pulled over, you get a text message. It's the cop, and they want you to get on a video call.
This is the future envisioned by Michael Odiari, an Austin entrepreneur who wants to "streamline and automate" traffic stops with a new app.
The app, called Check, allows users to upload their drivers license and car registration. Then, when the user is pulled over, the service sends a text invite to video chat with the officer, who already has the user's information.
"It's dangerous for both sides," Odiari said of police traffic stops. His app "provides a way for police and motorists to communicate without escalating" the situation.
Check's marketing promotes the app as a remedy for some of the racial disparities in regular traffic stops that garnered national attention over the summer. Late last month, protestors took to the streets in Omaha, Nebraska after police fatally shot a Black man in a traffic stop. And here in Austin, a recent study of local traffic stops in the city found black motorists were disproportionately pulled over by police.
Odiari, the son of a Nigerian immigrant, says he too has stared down the barrel of a police officer's gun in what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. During the incident, Odiari said the officer insisted that Odiari's vehicle registration was expired, even though it was not.
He believes the episode could have been smoothed with the app's services, which would transmit these documents to the officer before they approach the car.
The app also appeals to law enforcement, says Odiari, who spent more than 80 hours doing police ride-alongs. Approaching a motorist's vehicle in a traffic stop is often described in law enforcement training as one of the most dangerous situations for officers, although studies of data have challenged the notion.
Check currently has no contracts with police departments, though Odiari has been in talks with at least two in the Austin area.
Check's team is waiting to implement the video calling portion until they've built up a large enough user base through the app's other service—automating the traffic court visit.
Check has already attracted some investors.
"We would invest in this business even without the social justice component," said Oksana Malysheva, the CEO of Sputnik ATX, an investment group. "This is an elegant solution that serves both sides of the equation incredibly well."
But efforts to improve policing with technology—a movement which has gained traction in recent years through body cameras and data services like Palantir—have been criticized.
"Technology does very little to change the fundamental thing that police do," said Michael Sierra-Arévalo, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in crime and law enforcement issues.
He said the very nature of policing already promotes the kind of escalation that technology like Check hopes to prevent.
Previous attempts to reform police through technology have returned mixed results. Arévalo pointed to tasers, which were promoted roughly two decades ago as a way for police to de-escalate situations with non-violent force, however results have been mixed.
But Odiari remains hopeful.
"I'm not saying this is going to solve all the problems out there," Odiari said. "But this is a start for people to tell their government how they want police to communicate with them."
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Austin FC couldn't find the stamina to fight off a 2-0 loss against LAFC for their inaugural match on Saturday.
The match, which saw No. 21 Austin FC go head-to-head with No. 2 LAFC in Los Angeles, was broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes.
Salute the support. 👏
It's only the beginning for @AustinFC. pic.twitter.com/TduorqYr2y
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 18, 2021
Eleven players took the stage as Austin FC players for the first time, with five starters making their MLS debut. "Ringleader" Alex Ring took the captain's armband and wore it well. The defensive midfielder could be seen leading his teammates through their first ever match, but it wasn't enough to stage an Austin takeover in LA.
In the signature style of Head Coach Josh Wolff, the team played with quickness and intensity, nearly connecting on several fast breaks. It was harder for them to stay in front, however, something that Wolff credits with quick decision making and a tough LAFC defense.
"We have a quick attacking team, but I think when you make quick attacks and it fizzles it's just about some decision making," Wolff said. "Are we in position to finish attacks? If not, can we reestablish our attack and get stuff better?"
The club was given some generous breaks from No. 2 LAFC, who had one or both of their star DPs out for the half. While forward Diego Rossi is out for the entire match due to a hamstring injury, Carlos Vela was accidentally pulled too soon on what turned out to be a miscommunication.
"He gave us the sign that he needed to come off," LAFC Head Coach Bob Bradley said on broadcast. "I can't say more than maybe it's my fault."
LA pulled some dramatics and slowly gained more possession throughout the half, but ATXFC's defense wasn't initially as shaky as it seemed in preseason. Jhohan Romana has pulled his weight in getting the ball out of goal, and a 34-year old Matt Besler held his own in center back.
As the second half commenced, however, it became clear that LAFC had the advantage over Austin's first major league team.
Goalkeeper Brad Stuver had his work cut out for him, fending off 24 shot attempts, 11 of which were on goal. He didn't have much time to prepare, either: in the first 30 seconds of play, Stuver had already made a save to keep the match 0-0.
LAFC finally connected in the 61st minute of play as Corey Baird shot one into the bottom right corner. The team capitalized off their momentum and put one past Stuver a second time, drawing roars of approval from the LAFC crowd.
While some last-minute attempts from Jon Gallagher and others were made, Austin FC didn't have the endurance to bring a tie. After seven additional minutes of stoppage time, the club lost their first match 2-0.
While the scoreboard tells one story, Wolff said that the team did well considering the skill of LAFC and the pressure of their club debut.
"We've got to be realistic," Wolff said. "This is the first time this organization has been in front of TV with an opportunity to show itself and I think there were some promising moments. And we're going to maximize those and continue to try to develop those, but there's lots to build on."
The team may have lost, but it still won the support of thousands of Verde fans, dozens of which made it to watch their team's first match. When Stuver and the team made it to bthe stadium, Los Verdes fans were already there to show support, and Stuver said his wife saw the same back in Austin.
"The moment that we pulled into the stadium, we saw Black and Verde fans cheering us on as we got to the stadium," Stuver said. "During warm up, you can just look around and see different groups sitting in different sections of the stadium and it's just truly amazing to see the support in our first game. We know that we want to give the fans everything, because this we play for the city and we play for them."