Texas ‘Cop Watcher’ Bill Could Create Problems For Accountability, Say Lawyers, Activists

A new “cop watcher” bill is being processed in Texas, and many groups are calling foul. Lawyers, specifically, have called the potential new law unconstitutional.

What this new bill, currently named HB 2918, does is that it creates a legal “buffer zone,” inside which nobody can film an officer doing their job. Introduced by House representative Jason Villalba, lawyers claim the bill would defy the First Amendment and keep individuals from holding law enforcement accountable.

While some states have begun arming their officers with body cameras, such as New York, Villalba apparently feels that’s enough. Civilians with mobile phones recording footage for their own evidence, under this new Texas bill, would currently need to stay at least 25 feet away from the scene.

One such civilian is Kory Watkins, who Al Jazeera reports would be directly impacted by the “cop watcher” bill due to his activist habits. Watkins openly carries an AK-47 as he looks for police activity such as DUI checkpoints and speed traps, notifies motorists, and records police stops with his smartphone.

“Why not? It’s my right to do so and I want to exert my freedoms in the most powerful way and in the biggest way possible. That way, more freedoms are created by doing so.

More now than ever, we need police accountability. We need people out there reporting, because it’s not just here in our area; it’s all over the country.”

Kory Watkins is one of many who do this, seeing it as their civil duty. He is a father of two and a bartender by day, so it isn’t all he does.

There was an instance this Fall where the “cop watcher” bill gave Watkins some serious trouble, as he was allegedly recording a traffic stop alongside his wife, Janie, and fellow activist, Joseph Tye. According to Arlington police Lieutenant Christopher Cook, they got too close and were arrested.

Cornell University Law School professor William Jacobson agrees that the new bill is intrusive.

“It’s very disturbing that you would have an arbitrary and significant buffer zone that would absolutely apply regardless of the circumstances.

The mere act of videotaping cannot be deemed an obstruction. This [bill] is an attempt to prevent people from videotaping police and that you can’t just arbitrarily do.

They [police] may subjectively feel that the spotlight on them does inhibit their ability to act, but that subjective feeling cannot trump the First Amendment.”

According to Fox News, Jacobson adds that a lot of the most important pieces of video evidence in police history have been from private devices, not news cameras.

What do you think? Is the “cop watcher” bill too intrusive, or is it simply a way to keep distractions away while officers do their job?

[Image via YouTube]