ACLU App Lets Civilians Record Police

"Mobile Justice" app turns anyone into a police monitor.

A screenshot from the ACLU app.

A screenshot from the ACLU app.

The last year has been filled with videos depicting — or purporting to depict — police misconduct across the United States. Now the ACLU is encouraging Pennsylvania citizens to join the trend.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a new smartphone app on Nov. 13. Called “Mobile Justice PA,” the app lets civilians record video of police-civilian encounters and send it to the ACLU automatically.

It’s set up to work so that the ACLU gets the video even if an officer moves to seize the smartphone or wipe out its data, both actions that they are not supposed to do without a warrant. If a Mobile Justice user witnesses suspect police activity, he or she can summon others to the scene with the app to record it as well. The app also contains a handy summary of the rights Pennsylvanians have to record activities of public servants taking place in public locations.

The app was originally developed by the New York Civil Liberties Union as a response to police “stop and frisk” activity. Since then, it’s been released by ACLU affiliates in 19 states. ACLU Pennsylvania was one of 10 state organizations that released the app on the same day.

“Across Pennsylvania, we have had nearly 1,000 downloads since last Friday’s launch,” said ACLU Pennsylvania Communications Associate Ben Bowens, who added that to date there have been no reports of users being challenged by police officers they were recording.

The Philadelphia Police Department did not respond to our request for comment before our deadline. Commissioner Charles Ramsey in 2011 issued guidelines ordering officers not to interfere with the lawful recording of police-civilian encounters, though there have been flareups since then.

The app is available in both iOS and Android versions and can be downloaded from the Mobile Justice PA website.