ACLU App to Help Record Police Interactions

By Miles, Elizabeth | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 28, 2015 | Go to article overview

ACLU App to Help Record Police Interactions


Miles, Elizabeth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


There's an app for everything - including recording interactions with the police.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania - partly in response to cases in which Philadelphia police officers arrested or impeded citizens filming them - will offer the Mobile Justice app later this summer.

Though smartphones are so ubiquitous that nearly anyone can film encounters with police, this app sends the audio or video directly to the ACLU.

"We are in such a society at this point where that's probably going to be happening anyway," said Ben Bowens, communications associate at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Every time there's an incident, you always see people standing around with their cell phones videotaping."

The app is already available in California, Missouri and five other states.

Sarah Rossi, director of policy and advocacy at the ACLU of Missouri, said that the state's app has been downloaded about 13,000 times since early 2015.

Since the first wave of releases, Mr. Bowens' office in Philadelphia has been fielding emails asking when it will be offered in Pennsylvania.

"The fact that everybody now has a cell phone that can take video . everybody is empowered to do so," said Mr. Bowens.

"There is no fear or worry of having a police officer or anybody go through your phone to find that recording. Once you stop recording, it gets sent to us directly."

Mr. Bowens described a Fayette County case in which the app might have made a difference. Gregory Rizer was arrested in 2012 on charges of violating the state wiretap law after using his phone to audio-record Point Marion police Officer Kevin Lukart, whom he felt was overly aggressive in questioning Shannon Hughes, a friend of Mr. Rizer's.

His phone was seized and the recording deleted before it was returned to him, eliminating his ability to shed light on the incident. The case was settled in October 2013.

Mobile Justice has three functions: record, witness and report. "Record" takes audio and video files, immediately sending them to the ACLU. "Witness" sends out one's location, notifying other app users if they wish to document the interaction. "Report" allows for an incident report without filming. The app also has a "Know Your Rights" tab, meant to inform users on their constitutional right to film.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, believes the app "might reinforce that it's OK to do that," reassuring some that they will not have their device confiscated or broken. "We've had those incidents in Pittsburgh."

She also cited a difference in credibility as a reason for the app. …

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