Texas Lawmaker Wants To Make It Illegal To Film Cops From Less Than 25 Feet Away

from the because-yelling,-shoving,-intimidation-and-confiscation-just-aren't-enough dept

Now that it’s pretty much settled that the public has the right to record the police*, legislators are now moving to peel back this begrudgingly “granted” First Amendment protection.

*Exceptions, of course. Far, far too many of them.

Filed by Dallas State Representative Jason Villalba (R), the bill prohibits anyone in public within 25 feet of police to record them. The buffer is even greater at 100 feet, for anyone recording video who is also carrying a gun. Only accredited news organizations, like KENS5, would be allowed to record without the buffer zone.

Guess who gets to decide whether any unaccredited videographers are “too close” to the action? That’s right. It’ll be the person deploying handcuffs or demanding the camera be shut off/relinquished. It will all be in the eye of the uniformed beholder who’s just going to eyeball the distance between him and the unaffiliated bodies of public accountability, and if it’s close, just go ahead and call it a crime. A crime with some rather hefty penalties, considering it involves recording public figures in public areas.

Anyone caught filming within the 25-foot radius could be prosecuted for a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. For gun-carriers who step within 100 feet, it would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Blogger Ex-Cop Law Student calls it the “Kory Watkins Law,” after the open-carry activist, who has filmed many of his interactions with local law enforcement.

This is basically a reaction to the confrontational style of Kory, who has a tendency to get very close to the officers while being loud and armed with either a rifle or a black powder revolver. So Villalba decided that a new law was needed, despite the fact that there is already a perfectly valid law on the book that deals with the issue.

Of course, the “valid” law is one that’s already frequently abused: “interfering with public duties.” This catch-all has snagged many citizens and their cellphones. Villalba’s proposal just gives police officers another way to legally violate the First Amendment rights of others.

Villalba’s hardly a neutral party. According to the Dallas Observer, his best man was a police officer. So are many of his family members and friends. This string of tweets issued as the criticism began to roll in shows pretty clearly which side Villalba is legislating for.


There’s nothing wrong with having cops as friends (and you can’t choose your family members), but favoring a single subset of your constituents in order to — at least, indirectly — shield them from accountability isn’t something legislators should be doing. They should be doing more to ensure their non-uniform-wearing, non-government employees are better equipped and more empowered to keep their public officials in line. This bill does nothing but create a larger power gap.

As always, it’s an outsized “concern” for certain people’s safety that is driving the legislation.

Villalba says cops often can’t spare the time or attention to put up yellow tape or ask a photographer to step back. “They have the ability to say, ‘Step back, please don’t interfere,’ but a lot of times these situations are in the heat of a law enforcement officer doing their jobs,” he said. With HB 2918, “We’re just trying to create enough separation, enough space so that officer feels comfortable.”

Here’s an idea: if they don’t have time to push people around, then maybe they shouldn’t waste those valuable moments harassing photographers. Most photographers aren’t closing the distance between them and cops. It’s usually the other way around — officers approaching people they see filming. 25 feet is “reasonable” but it shouldn’t be a misdemeanor and no legislator should be attempting to criminalize First Amendment-protected activity. Interfering with police duties is already illegal and it can be deployed if there’s actual interference occurring. If you’re being prevented from doing your job (effecting an arrest, etc.), then it’s legitimate. If not, then it’s perfectly acceptable, no matter how annoying it might be personally.

Ex-Cop Law Student points out the logical flaw in Villalba’s “cops just don’t have the time” argument:

Uh, Jason? If they are too busy to tell someone to move back, wouldn’t they be too busy to make an additional arrest? Because the purpose of the law is to criminalize the gathering of information that can be used to exercise the right to free speech. The fact that a law is on the books doesn’t magically make people move back, nor does it encourage the police to welcome citizen photographers. On the contrary, it encourages police officers to suppress free speech.

No matter how Villalba might frame it, and no matter how potentially pure his motivations (highly debatable), the fact remains that this law, if passed, will be just as abused as the one already on the books (“interfering with public duties”). In fact, it will be more heavily abused because it gives the recorded the power to control the recordings.

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Comments on “Texas Lawmaker Wants To Make It Illegal To Film Cops From Less Than 25 Feet Away”

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70 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

How convenient

Somehow I rather doubt that the mics in most cameras/phones are sensitive enough to get a clear recording of someone talking 25 feet away(and nothing but specialized equipment is going to manage the trick from 100 feet away), which will allows the cops to claim whatever they want if it comes to what someone said.

“I didn’t start beating him because I felt like a laugh, no, I did it because he threatened me, and I needed to protect myself. Yes I know the video that I forgot to ‘accidentally delete’ shows me standing there one minute and beating him with my club the next, but I can assure you that he threatened me.”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: How does filming threaten police?

It threatens their job by threatening to expose their actions, therefor it threatens them.

When you’re used to being able to do anything you want, because no court is going to take the word of a suspect over that of a cop, video evidence, even if it ends up ignored by cop-friendly courts fairly often, is a huge threat to your ability to give your fists a workout and claim it was because someone ‘posed an immediate threat to your life’, by showing that such a claim is nothing but a lie.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

So, with this law if you’re armed you have to stand 100ft away from any cop if recording them. But if you put down the camera and free up your hands, then you can walk right up to the cop.

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer someone to have their hands up by their face recording me than idling hanging two inches from a holster.

383bigblock says:

Re: 25ft Event Horizon

Of course there are amendments comings.
1.0 – Armed with a straw and wad of paper (while filming) must be no closer than 25 ft.
2. Armed with a spear (while filming) no less than 30ft.
3. Armed with a handgun (while filming) must be no less than 100 ft.
4. Armed with a Remington model 700 in .308 (while filming) must be no less than 500 yds
5. Armed with a Barrett M82A1 .50 Cal (while filming) must be no less than 2500 yds.
6. Armed with a Rocket propelled grenade (while filming) must not be less than 5000 yds.
7. Armed with s 240mm mortar (while filming) must not be closer than 1 mile.

I think that about covers it. It is Texas after all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 25ft Event Horizon

Unfortunately, #6 (RPG) and #7 (mortar) are no more legal in Texas than anywhere else in the US thanks to the National Firearms Act.

However, you missed muzzleloader cannon, which are legal in Texas and many other locales. Cans filled with concrete make cheap rounds. The range varies by calibre and powder load.

Anonymous Coward says:

So the law abiding citizen is standing 30’away. The cop, afraid of accountability closes the gap. Now the citizen is breaking the law. They either continue to film and get arrested and their camera stolen and erases by police or they make an attempt to put the camera down, in which case they are making a threatening action (reaching for a weapon?) and the cops can then murder them, steal their camera and erase the footage. One side, one story. Cops’ safety trumps citizen’s right to life.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So the law abiding citizen is standing 30′ away. The cop, afraid of accountability closes the gap. Now the citizen is breaking the law.

And if you back up to maintain that gap, you aren’t “complying with the law”, you are “circumventing legal prohibitions”, a technique better known as Aereo surveillance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Blue lives matter...but not as much as citizens'

If 1 or 2 or 10 or 50 or 500 cops have to die in order to protect one citizen: those are acceptable losses. Of course I hope it doesn’t come to that, I don’t want to see anybody die before their time. But better cops, any of them, all of them, than the citizens that they are sworn to protect and serve.

Any cop who isn’t willing to die instantly for a citizen is unworthy of the privilege of being a public servant and should immediately fired AND banned for life from public service.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Most photographers aren’t closing the distance between them and cops. It’s usually the other way around — officers approaching people they see filming.”

This is the key area where this would get abused, contrary to Villalba’s assurances that it won’t prohibit filming.

Despite Villalba’s proposed scenario, there are often multiple cops at a scene (as we’ve seen in the videos of previous abuses of the “I don’t want to be filmed/you’re interfering in police business” laws).

All an extra cop on the scene has to do is walk towards you and then arrest you because he closed the gap while you were filming. If he wants to prevent you from seeing anything, he can “escort” you from the scene where his buddies are beating someone up because you can’t film while he’s standing there with you. This has already been done despite this not being lawful.

It would be the filming equivalent of the border agents who jumped in front of moving vehicles in order to give them an excuse to shoot at people. Cops will stand in front of cameras in order to arrest people for filming.

Padpaw (profile) says:

considering the police already treat it the same as pointing a gun at them oddly enough.

In that they fear for their lives enough to brutalize and or murder anyone that starts filming them.

Then the public for the most part is apathetic towards police brutality erring on the side of the police must be trusted for what actually happened simply because they are police.

So a law for this would be redundant. Since the police already criminally act like such a law exists

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Re:

being restrained on the ground and having your face break a cop’s fist as he punches you is considered felonious assault against a cop.

I am certain they will think up something to make it a crime.

To expect a group that acts more like a criminal organization when it comes to holding them accountable for their unlawful actions, to actually shape up and follow the laws they inflict on others would be laughable

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Where are the legions of cun nuts?

Why is it people like you never seem to take issue with the people allowed to have guns that abuse that privledge. But instead target everyone who has a gun.

Do we punish and blame everyone that has a drivers license just because some abuse that and kill people with drunk driving. No of course not we go after the people that break the law.

So why is it we don’t do that when it comes to owning guns? Why do we focus on banning or restricting them from people that follow the laws instead of punishing just the ones breaking the laws

ChrisB (profile) says:

Seriously?

I left Techdirt due to Tim’s cop hating nonsense. Peaking back, I realize the insanity is just as strong as ever.

Do none of you seriously understand why a cop might not want people wandering around when then are trying to detain or arrest someone? A dozen people buzzing around a few feet away creates severe security issues. And having armed people buzzing around… good grief, that is just a recipe for someone getting shot.

Cops don’t know who is friend or foe during a police situation. They don’t need people jamming a camera in their face. This law seems totally reasonable, except, I guess on this site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Seriously?

Cops don’t know who is friend or foe during a police situation.

Seems like that is an admission that the police have let their relationship with the people that they are policing degenerate to the state that the police are viewed as the enemy by a significant proportion of the people; and not just the criminals.

teka says:

Re: Seriously?

There are already laws about interfering with police, why would another law that criminalizes “watching the watchmen” help? This law say nothing about “people wandering around” or “having armed people buzzing around”

Police all over the country have shown that they have no problem arresting (and beating, robbing) anyone with eyesight of their operations, there is no need for special abusable laws.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Seriously?

I left Techdirt due to Tim’s cop hating nonsense.

Once again, since you seem to not get it, it’s not ‘cop hating nonsense’, it’s ‘concerns brought about by corrupt cops and their abuses of authority and power’. If you can’t tell the difference, then I can only assume that you’re under the utterly mistaken belief that there are no corrupt cops, you are a corrupt cop, or you support them.

And really, if cops would start acting in a decent manner, and start ousting the worst among them rather than protecting them, then maybe, just maybe, less people would have a problem with them.

Do none of you seriously understand why a cop might not want people wandering around when then are trying to detain or arrest someone?

I do indeed, it’s because the video might show when they’re lying about what happened, as has happened numerous times in the past, and will most certainly happen in the future.

A dozen people buzzing around a few feet away creates severe security issues.

If people not involved in an incident are that close, they could be justifiably told to back up a bit, but most of the time simply being within hearing distance seems to be considered ‘too close’ to cops, who have this strange aversion to being watched.

And having armed people buzzing around… good grief, that is just a recipe for someone getting shot.

Indeed, I’m sure people would feel a lot safer if there were less armed cops ‘buzzing around’, lot less chance for people to get shot.

Oh, right, you meant other ‘armed people’, because clearly cops never shoot people so the the public doesn’t have to worry about them deciding that they’re ‘afraid for their life’ around someone who isn’t acting sufficiently cowed.

They don’t need people jamming a camera in their face.

They do when it’s been shown that they can, either mistakenly or on purpose make false claims, claims that will be taken at face value without contradictory evidence, evidence for which they have no interest in providing for themselves, and in fact have on multiple occasions gone out of their way to avoid creating.

They do when it’s been shown that they are willing to destroy evidence and intimidate bystanders to hide their actions, making it clear that they fear being held accountable for what they’ve done, because even they know that they’re stepping over the line.

JMT says:

Re: Seriously?

“I left Techdirt due to Tim’s cop hating nonsense.”

Oh don’t be such a drama queen. You don’t ‘leave’ a website, you either read it or you don’t. And clearly, you still do.

“Do none of you seriously understand why a cop might not want people wandering around when then are trying to detain or arrest someone?”

Of course we all understand that a cop might not want to be held fully accountable for their actions, and might want to be able to make up whatever story suits them best it things go south. At this point it’s pretty much considered to be standard operating procedure.

“A dozen people buzzing around a few feet away creates severe security issues.”

Indeed it could, and if you can prove that’s ever actually happened (literally a dozen people, literally within a few feet), and happens often enough to justify punishing people for filming a lot further than a few feet away feet, then you might have a case.

“And having armed people buzzing around… good grief, that is just a recipe for someone getting shot.”

So you’re basically admitting cops are a danger to other people’s lives when they get nervous. Y’know, like a wild animal. You really think that’s a good thing?

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Re:

The problem IS police, and policing. Your arguments come from a presumption that those who are “policed” give two shits about what a cop thinks. Your view comes from a place that presumes the cops are somehow doing a “job” that the people are asking them to do–they are not.

Those who are “policed” are the second tier of our societies–the police are agents of state power, and the upper tier of our societies who do not give two shits about those who are “policed.”

So

I left Techdirt due to Tim’s cop hating nonsense. Peaking back, I realize the insanity is just as strong as ever.

Great! Most people who ditch Techdirt leave because of the ADL-hasbara trolls, Thing 1 and Thing 2, so your case is unique. But Tim is straight on the best web writer ever, who covers the necessary beat of ” you should hate the US police.”

He cites case after case, and reason after reason–and yet people like you seem to feel that he hasn’t provided enough evidence. Why is that, officer?

Anonymous Coward says:

25 feet away… close enough to film, but far enough away so the cops can still claim that you weren’t close enough to really understand the situation, and they had to choke that person to death…

25 feet, because a witness to a crime 25 feet away, is easier to discredit than one that is say 10 feet away.

25 feet, because now a cop can claim you were closer, and then have probable cause to take your video camera, and erase any evidence you may have gathered, and now it’s up to you to prove you weren’t within 25 feet, your word against the cops.

Padpaw (profile) says:

anyone seen that video where the police were filmed by a guy hiding in his house as he feared for his life as 10+ cops attacked a couple of people on the street then broke down the door of a nearby home because the police saw them filming their criminal behavior.

The key parts there “they broke down a door to drag the occupants inside because they filmed the police attacking a couple of people for parking their cars too close to the curb in front of their home” I think it was.

was on the policestateusa website if anyone can stomach going through dozens of pages of brutality and murder to find the article

Anonymous Coward says:

A big question is whether the mandatory 25 foot distance will be absolute or relative. For instance, under federal law, a shotgun must have a minimum of an 18″ barrel. But that’s not to the nearest inch (or half-inch, or even quarter-inch) — it’s absolute — as defined and measured by the feds. So people get busted all the time for being barely a hair’s width under 18 — a number that originally was basically just pulled out of the air.

It could very well be that this proposed “25 foot law” will at least in practice require that filmers be at least twice that distance away, just to reduce the possibility of police [purposely] under-estimating the distance as an excuse to arrest people whose presence irritates them.

Anonymous Coward says:

The 100 feet if carrying a gun part makes absolutely no sense. Not that the 25 feet part makes any sense either. The “Kory Watkins Law”, indeed.

Come to think of it. Wasn’t the Albuquerque homeless man who was shot in the back 8 times and paralyzed by police officers wielding machine guns caught on a cop’s helmet cam? Wouldn’t this law make that footage illegal, due to the cop wearing the cam while holding a machine gun within 100 feet of other officers?

If cops can hold machine guns and record footage within 100 feet of fellow officers, why can’t citizens record footage within 100 feet of them too?

Homeless people getting shot in the back need protection too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“The 100 feet if carrying a gun part makes absolutely no sense.”

It makes perfect sense, but sadly not to the police’s benefit.

If, like these ‘Open Carry Texas’ activists, some ‘bad guy’ was carrying a rifle (open-carrying handguns is banned per Texas law) and planned to shoot a cop with it, wouldn’t it be logical for him to be more than 100 feet away — safely outside the range of a cop’s pistol, just in case the cop survived and fired back?

That’s why these “officer safety” laws are often misplaced. If someone really wanted to kill a cop, they could easily do so with a rifle from a long distance away, with a high chance of ‘success’ (kevlar vests only repel handgun ammunition) and little danger of being shot in return. Fortunately, that kind of cop-predator situation rarely happens (and when it does, it always makes the national headlines). But if the political situation ever devolved into a civil war, the most feared weapons would be rifles, especially scoped, long-range “hunting-type” rifles — which somewhat ironically are the least regulated of firearms.

Perhaps it’s just a case of crude animal-instinct psychology that makes cops nervous when a suspicious rifle-toter is standing close. Personally, I think I’d feel safer having such a person standing close by, where I could watch his every move, rather than out-of-sight behind a distant tree, in which case I’d be dead before I even saw it coming.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That means that there will be cops, the arresting officer and the one with the tape measure to make sure that some “miscreant” is at the correct distance, or further from the scene.

Any time the police see someone recording them, they have to get out a 25′ string and a piece of chalk and draw a circle indicating the no film zone. However, put the camera away and you’re welcome to step inside. Makes perfect sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There’s little chance of video of cops caught on storefront security cameras being posted on Youtube (most of the stuff you see was subpoenaed via lawsuit by victim’s families). Keeping in mind that these businesses depend on the police for protection, as well as “protection” — so they’re not about to do anything that might annoy the police and therefore get them on the wrong side of the law.

Joe S says:

Wonder how many commenters have ever worked in a law enforcement/security position, or have been on a ride along, or are just repeating the talking points they heard the other day.

All police are power hungry goons, just like every white person is a racist who is responsible for the hardships the black community.

I personally don’t have an issue with anyone filming me. However, there are the few who are filming to cause problems and make their agenda well heard at any incident. Its more annoying than anything, but hey, you can’t force these kids to be productive with their time. Exercise your 1st amendment, just don’t touch me please 🙂 that’s the only time I have a problem with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Constitution-Free Zones

The government has already set a precedent by declaring the area withing 100 miles of the border to be a constitution-free zone. It now seems to be moving towards doing something similar with cops: constitution-free zones that will simply follow them where ever they go. If they can do it with borders, they can do it with cops.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Constitution-Free Zones

Don’t forget school zones, with greatly increased criminal penalties within a thousand feet of school property, even if the “crime” occurs inside a house, or at 2 am, or during summer vacation. In practice, it turned into a sentence-multiplier for mostly inner city residents whose only crime was possessing contraband or selling something the law won’t let anyone sell.

Spice says:

This was clearly created to protect cops that make “mistakes” by killing black men.

This is no coincidence. Clearly these cops are out here lying about their actions and they need to be held accountable.

This is a scare tactic to try to reign in the people who see this injustice and decide to take their stand by recording and releasing the video’s to the public.

When this bill is passed the cops will not be threatening even more people, the ones recording, with arrests and jail time.

This is a sick, sick bill.

Frederick H. Stralow (profile) says:

The New "Kory Watkins Law"

Since this article was written almost 3 years ago, a lot has happened. We had the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rule that photography of the police in public is a protected activity under the 1st Amendment, Turner vs. Driver, which I guess we can call the new “Kory Watkins Law” because there are a growing number of 1st Amendment Auditors today and we have Kory Watkins seeking the Libertarian Party of Texas nomination for Texas Governor. Kory has also been leading the Cannabis Open Carry Walks across Texas. We also have CJ Grisham being tazed and arrested by the Olmos Park, Texas PD along with several others and there are plans for a reunion of sorts with the 1st Amendment Auditors, open-carry activists and many other activists Saturday April 7, 2018 in Olmos Park, Texas.

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