Racial profiling, over-policing and excess force are plaguing communities all over the country: Pennsylvania’s American Civil Liberties Union empowers Pennsylvanians with a new app designed to address law enforcement misconduct. The Mobile Justice PA app came about partly due to the instances in which Philadelphia police officers impeded or arrested citizens who were filming them.
The First Amendment protects Americans against governmental censorship, allowing freedom of speech. Law enforcement officers serve on behalf of the government and are public officials. Therefore, one would believe that the right to film police officers without concerns about legal repercussion would be expected; however, courts are split concerning this matter and are working toward a resolution.
The Right To Film Law Enforcement
Transparency in law enforcement is extremely important to the public. A Pennsylvanian’s ability to film police can provide valuable evidence related to government misconduct. Filming police officers is not legal in all 50 states; however, in numerous states where filming law enforcement is legal, there is a misconception that it is not. The Mobile Justice App is available in Pennsylvania, Arizona, California and 14 other states. The United States District Court for The Western District of Pennsylvania supports the right to record.
Smartphones Offer A Way For Pennsylvanians To Film Law Enforcement
Smartphones are everywhere, which means that the majority of the public can film police encounters with them. Ben Bowens is the communications associate at Pennsylvania’s ACLU. He states that, “ We are in such a society at this point where that’s [filming police] probably going to be happening anyway, every time there’s an incident, you always see people standing around with their cell phones videotaping.”
The Mobile Justice PA app allows individuals to:
- Know their rights when they encounter or witness an incident involving law enforcement. With this app, users can attain valuable information by accessing the ACLU’s full “Know Your Rights” library with just the click of a button.
- Document law enforcement misconduct via recordings and then securely submit the recordings of the incident directly to the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
- Receive alerts from fellow Mobile Justice PA app users who are witnessing incidents in their area.
- Know when and where the ACLU is holding action and events locally and throughout the state of Pennsylvania.
The Mobile Justice App Could’ve Made A Difference
Bowens describes a case in Fayette County in which the Mobile Justice app may have made a difference:
In 2012, Gregory Rizer was arrested and charged with violating Pennsylvania’s wiretap law because he used his phone as a means to audio-record Officer Kevin Lukart, a Point Marion police officer. He made the recording because he felt that Officer Lukart was extremely aggressive while questioning Rizer’s friend, Shannon Hughes. Rizer’s phone was confiscated. Eventually, his phone was returned to him; however, the SIM card storing the recording was missing. Consequently, thwarting his ability to offer evidence to support his accusations. In Oct. 2013, the case was settled.
Bowens states that with the Mobile Justice app, there is no reason to be concerned that the police officer (or anyone else) will go through your phone since as soon as you stop recording, the content is immediately sent to the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Recording Law Enforcement Is Legal
Elizabeth Pittinger is the executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board in Pittsburgh. She states that traditionally, the statement made by an officer holds more weight than a civilian’s statement does, especially a civilian with a checkered past. According to Pittinger, there have been incidents in Pittsburgh involving law enforcement confiscating or breaking civilians’ phones. She believes that this app may reinforce the fact that it is okay to record incidents with law enforcement; while, reassuring individuals that their devices will not be broken or confiscated.
At DeLuca, Ricciuti & Konieczka, we have the benefit of understanding criminal cases and defense from both angles because all of our criminal defense attorneys are former assistant district attorneys. Our knowledge of the tactics the government uses in conjunction with our trial experience assists us in defending our clients here in the state of Pennsylvania. If you or someone you care about is facing criminal charges, please contact us today to schedule your complimentary initial consultation.