Minneapolis attorney Jazz Hampton participated in peaceful protests last year calling for racial justice and justice for George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes.
They were difficult moments for Hampton, a Black man, who just four years before Floyd's death, saw the Twin Cities deal with the police killing of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot during a traffic stop.
And the world's eyes were on Minneapolis as Derek Chauvin, the officer, was tried and convicted of Floyd's murder. Activists continue to push for reforms.
Something, Hampton said, had to change on the individual level as well.
"I'm a Black lawyer from the Twin Cities, the epicenter of this movement, and what am I doing to be actively a part of the solution?" he asked himself.
A few months after Floyd's death, Hampton and friends Andre Creighton and Mychal Frelix quit their corporate jobs and formed a company to create an app to help keep drivers — and police officers — safe by de-escalating roadside interactions.
After more than six months in development mode, the friends last week launched TurnSignl, an on-demand, real-time app that gives drivers access to live legal representation during traffic stops and accidents. The app will first launch in Minnesota, followed by Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., said Hampton, the company's chief executive.
Hampton said more states will be added throughout the year. Geolocation technology in the app automates calls to lawyers within certain jurisdictions.
The app, which is available on iPhone and Android phones and costs $10 a month or $75 a year. has the potential to be used by millions of people. According to a 2020 report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2018, 18.6 million drivers had police-initiated contact during a traffic stop. There were 8.8 million people that year that had interactions with police following a traffic accident.
"We're three Black men that started this company and ran with it, so obviously we had certain backgrounds of why this was important, but this app is really for everyone," Hampton said. "There's so many people this app is going to be used by."
Hampton said the app wasn't designed solely for people of color, though he suspects that demographic will be the early adopters of the app.
When pulled to the side of the road by law enforcement, a user starts the live video conference functioning through the app. The app sends an alert to available lawyers who have signed up to be on the network, and a lawyer within the jurisdiction of the driver joins the call to provide legal guidance. The driver can decide to retain the lawyer afterward, Hampton said.
The lawyers who provide legal guidance do so at no cost beyond the monthly fee to drivers. The videos are uploaded over the internet to the driver, or account holder's, file. The lawyer do not have access to the stored videos, Hampton said.
Creighton, the company's chief financial and operating officer, and Frelix, the chief technology and revenue officer, grew up in the Frogtown area in St Paul, while Hampton grew up in Richfield. Creighton has worked in public accounting for firms such as Lurie, Baker Tilly and Cargill, while Frelix most recently worked with Sony Electronics. Hampton, who previously worked at a national law firm, studied computer science in college.
"We have the bases covered, and we're three Black men that really care about what's going on in the Twin Cities," Hampton said. "Who is better equipped to leave their job and take a chance to do this and try to improve the relationship between citizens and police and make sure folks get home safely?"
The founders bootstrapped the creation of the company, but recently secured funding from investors to officially launch the app. Hampton declined to disclose the size of the funding round, but said the initial goal for the capital raise were quickly surpassed, adding the business has received "an absolute outpouring of interest in providing financial support".
Through a corporate account/enterprise model, employers can buy subscriptions to Turn Signl and offer them as a benefit to employees. Employers can also provide funding to cover the costs of users who can't afford the monthly subscription price.
For those unable to afford that extra expense, but want the app, they can answer certain questions to determine if they meet the criteria to use the app free of charge. Turn Signl Foundation has been created to cover costs of users who can't afford the app. The foundation, which is run separately from the business, also provides scholarships to those interested in becoming an attorney or law enforcement officer, Hampton said.
Before launching the app, the founders sought feedback from more than a dozen police officers and a few police chiefs, of which some gave positive feedback, Hampton said.
"This isn't a cop watch or police watch app," he said. "This is an app to bridge the gap."