Earlier this year, Texas legislator Jason Villalba attempted to shortchange the First Amendment in the name of "officer safety" by making it illegal to film police officers from within a 25-foot, constantly-moving radius. His proposed law was greeted with criticism (and death threats, according to Villalba) and was consequently discarded because it was a terrible, arbitrary law that had only the briefest of flirtations with reality and logic.
For one thing, the law would have prompted officers to split their attention between the job at hand (whatever crime they were responding to/investigating) and Villalba's directive. Of course, officers could easily choose not to enforce this bad law, but far too many officers have been filmed leaving crime scenes just to hassle citizens with cameras. And the instant the officer started closing the gap between him and the photographer, a law would have been violated in letter, if not in spirit. Villalba is a staunch supporter of law enforcement agencies and his proposal was just an attempt to give officers a little less accountability.
So, despite this bill being ridiculed out of existence, hopes springs eternal in those who feel the public is the worst of their problems. Boston's police commissioner is now asking for the same accountability halo for his officers.
Boston police Commissioner William B. Evans is calling for laws to regulate the proliferation of cellphone-toting citizens and so-called cop watchers dedicated to recording potential police misconduct — a trend that has given rise to new challenges and risks for officers at crime scenes.
“If we can get legislation that protects both sides, I’m all for it,” Evans told the Herald late last week. “Should you be up in a police officer’s face and agitating them? Absolutely not. Because we’ve seen it through all these demonstrations. It interferes sometimes with us (being) able to look at the crowd and focus on what our mission is.”
Evans is wholly disingenuous throughout the course of this article. He first tries to spin this as a problem caused
by citizens. His claim that people are "agitating" officers by getting "up in their faces" may be minimally true, but it's far more common to see police officers walking up to people filming them and getting in their faces
. Generally, citizens filming police activities don't approach cops. It's almost always the other way around. So, if there's an issue here, it should be addressed with officers first
, who seem far too willing to abandon the "mission" just to shut down recordings.
“But when you’re just out there for the very reason of, you know, trying to get a gotcha moment, that’s irritating to us,” Evans said, pointing to instances on July 4 and following the March shooting of officer John T. Moynihan, when police were met by a group of vocal video-takers at the edge of the scene.
This sort of argument has been raised before to defend actions taken against photographers. It's the law enforcement equivalent of the childhood go-to complaint, "He started it!" If officers would simply focus on their jobs
rather than citizens and their cameras, there would be fewer "gotcha moments." Nothing about enforcing the law translates to "taking the bait." Every officer that shows restraint
in the face of someone hoping for a "gotcha moment" will come out of the incident victorious. It will be the photographer who looks ridiculous, rather than the other way around. If Evans is using this as justification for a protective, camera-free space around cops, he's basically admitting his officers have self-control issues and cannot handle being "irritated."
Evans goes even further than Villalba, however, when he starts advocating for arresting citizens who don't leap in the moment they sense an officer might have lost the upper hand in an altercation.
“During the altercation, as officers struggled to subdue the suspect, they noted that they were being videotaped by the large crowd that had gathered,” officers wrote in their report. “In need of help, officers asked members of the crowd and a security guard for help. No help was offered.”
Evans said that should never happen. “I’d also like to see some legislation that if a cop is on the ground struggling with someone, like he was the other night and everybody is videotaping, someone should be held accountable for not stepping up and helping them,” he said.
It would seem that paying out settlements for police misconduct
isn't financially damaging enough. Now, Evans wants to open his department and the city of Boston up to additional lawsuits for injuries sustained by citizens providing mandatory assistance to struggling cops. And what happens if the responding member of the public takes it too far and provides some additional excessive force of their own? The subdued suspect may look at police officers and their immunity and decide it's much easier to sue a citizen who isn't protected by this legal shield.
While I understand his frustration that the public seems more interested in watching than helping, the public is usually similarly unhelpful when other citizens are receiving a beatdown. And the larger the crowd, the less likely it is
that anyone's going to put their own lives/health on the line for someone else. Evans says "someone" should be held responsible in situations like this, while discussing a "crowd." But who? Any random person? All of them? The security guard? If people are going to have their preference to remain uninvolved in altercations criminalized, so should officers who refuse to show the same deference to the public -- either by responding to every perceived threat with acts of violence or by pointing out that "protect and serve" isn't actually part of any police department's policies or credo.
Evans' low-key pitch for legislation on these issues shows he truly believes police officers deserve more rights than citizens. He believes cops should work in an irritant-free environment with the knowledge that the general public will put itself in harm's way to save a public servant