Jason Villalba, House Representative of Texas State Legislature, has introduced a bill that would prevent the general public from getting within 25 feet of law enforcement when they are in the midst of apprehending suspects. Constituents and “Cop Watch” groups argue that with such a law in place, they cannot adequately document and record police activity, which has come under scrutiny all across the country in the wake of the unbridled violence, sexual harassment and racism displayed by police.
Villalba was interviewed on “Capital Tonight” and argued that 25 feet allows the officers to better do their jobs and keeps them safe by “creating a halo around them.” He says that he has personally taken sample photos and videos with his cell phone and the 25 foot buffer still allowing citizens the ability to obtain still and moving pictures with “exquisite detail” and “crystal clear” audio, and that was on his iPhone 4.
If you are the person being apprehended, this new bill would obviously preclude you from being able to record the situation. And if the officers involved don’t have any operating body cameras on, there would be no firsthand record from the police department either. Right now, policies about personal body cameras on police officers vary widely around the state of Texas. For example, Austin allows personal body cameras on police offers, but does not require them, whereas another bill was introduced that would “forbid officers from wearing personal body cameras.” Similar laws are being considered in Illinois.
Texas’ current penal code defines “Interference With Public Duties” as:
A person commits an offense if the person with criminal negligence interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with: (1) a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law.
Villalba’s bill, HB 2918, would expand that definition of “interfering,” and make it a misdemeanor if one is caught “filming, recording, photographing, or documenting the officer within 25 feet of the officer”. This distance is increased to 100 feet if the person is “carrying a handgun.” No mention is made in the event that the citizen is carrying an AR-15 or similar.
The Texas ACLU commented:
Texans have a First Amendment right to record police officers in public places as they perform their duties. Many high-profile incidents of police abuse, like LAPD officers’ beating of Rodney King, would never have been exposed to public scrutiny but for the citizen journalists on the scene who dared to record conduct that they believed was wrong. HB 2918 would deprive us of an important check against abuse of power by the police.
WATCH Villalbas defend his position:
Featured image is a screen shot from the video above.