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GFPD explains 'obstruction of a peace officer'

Posted at 5:12 PM, Mar 05, 2024

Several days ago, an incident occurred between a Great Falls resident and a Great Falls Police Officer, which ultimately led to the person receiving a misdemeanor citation for obstruction of a peace officer. Reporter McKenna Holman talked with GFPD Lieutenant Doug Mahlum to discuss what obstructing a peace officer means and where those lines are drawn.

There are a variety of instances in which a police investigation or traffic stop is occurring in public with bystanders around; however, getting too close to the scene or the officers can lead to what is considered obstruction of a peace officer.

Mahlum explained that obstructing a peace officer can be anything that hinders or impairs an officer’s investigation.

“Basically, if I'm a police officer on a call and I’m conducting an investigation and you are in my way or contacting me, diverting my attention, slowing me or stopping me from completing my investigation, it can be considered obstructing a peace officer,” said Mahlum.

No physical actions are required to be considered obstructing a peace officer; rather, it’s anything that hinders the law enforcement from their ability to investigate a crime.

“There are things we’re responsible for once we're on scene of any type,” said Mahlum. “We're responsible for the people that we're working for at that moment for their safety, we're responsible for the general public’s safety, and we're responsible for our officers’ safety as well. If you're a bystander or a witness to whatever it might be, we certainly would ask that you don't interject into the immediate presence of what we're doing.”

Additionally, everyone has the Constitutional right to record a public interaction with the police, as long as it isn’t obstructing their ability to conduct the active investigation.

Mahlum also said, “It’s when we have to divide our attention because somebody's getting too close to where we're dealing with [and] now we have to support and protect them as well as ourselves and the people that we're dealing with. That's when it becomes concerning to us, but somebody standing afar and recording what's going on with the police in any way, shape, or form, absolutely supported by us. We would protect their right to do that.”

Police officers are put in a position to make a quick decision based on probable cause daily, in order to keep the general public, as well as themselves, safe.