ABILENE, Texas - A Texas senator recently authored a bill to protect citizens who film, photograph or record on-duty law enforcement officers.
State Senator Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, filed Senate Bill 897, or the Freedom to Film Act, on February 27. He claims the bill "will secure every citizen's right to film and document the police without being harassed."
According to Estes, "as more and more people have started carrying smartphones, there has been a disturbing trend nationwide of citizens being harassed by law enforcement for filming, photographing and recording law enforcement officers. Unfortunately, multiple incidents have occurred in Texas where citizens were told to stop filming the police, even though filming the police is perfectly legal."
Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge said his department has not had complaints like that.
"I do not believe it is a problem in Abilene and, in fact, I encourage the officers to record all of their contacts," Standridge said.
Under the bill, if a police officer tries to retaliate against a person for filming by charging them with interference with public duties, failure to obey or assaulting an officer and that person is acquitted of the charge(s), the accused will be entitled to reasonable compensation for legal fees and any broken equipment.
"My hope is that this bill will cause our police departments to think twice before arresting and charging a person who is doing nothing more than filming the police," Estes said. "The police are public servants, so they should not be doing anything that they would not want caught on film."
Standridge said people who want to film an officer in action need to be mindful of how they do so. He said people should use common sense, especially in dangerous situations where both the public and officers could be in harms way.
"I think the word reasonable should come to mind," Standridge said. "If the citizen is at a reasonable distance, then they can reasonably film the officers with no expectation of any interference from us."
Though the bill was filed in February, it must pass through six additional stages, including being voted on by the House and Senate, before it becomes law.
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