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Texas “Cop Watcher” bill walked back, sponsor under fire

Texas “Cop Watcher” bill walked back, sponsor under fire

“Maybe the haters can add this to my new Recall page.”

Earlier this month I wrote a lengthy but necessary breakdown of Texas’ “Cop Watcher” bill. Sponsored by Dallas-area House representative Jason Villalba, HB 2918 as filed would have changed the way activists and citizen journalists are allowed to interact with police officers.

Almost immediately after the bill was filed, Villalba came under fire from local and national activists who said that the bill was too restrictive and destroyed the ability for citizens to hold police accountable. Under pressure from constituents, activists, and his own colleagues, Villalba now appears amenable to amending—but not pulling—the controversial bill:

“I will not consider pulling this bill but what I will do is considerably rewrite it,” the North Dallas Republican said during a taping of WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics to air Sunday morning at 9:00.

Villalba appeared on the program to explain House Bill 2918 that makes it a misdemeanor to photograph police within 25 feet of them. News media was excluded.

During the taping, Villalba said he will reduce the distance to 15 feet but make it apply to everyone, including journalists.

“All we’re saying is provide [police] a halo. Give them a little room. We’re not saying don’t film. We’re not saying stop. We’re saying just step back a little bit,” explained Villalba.

Rep. Villalba further stirred the pot by blocking those who appeared to challenge this position on the bill via Facebook and Twitter. He has since unblocked many of those people—and offered an interview to one junior journalist who was blocked before Villalba answered her question—but maintains that he and his staff made the call to tighten up security on social media as a matter of safety:

“So many people who really don’t have a dog in this fight are willing to throw rocks,” he says. “And, look: Sticks and stones. I have a problem when they begin making threats against my family.” He says he’s had to engage a security detail to ensure their safety in recent days.

“These are real threats,” he says. “It’s not a joke. It’s not funny. We’ve had to take steps to tighten the filters till this blows over. There’s been some pretty awful stuff that’s made me uncomfortable, made my wife uncomfortable, my kids. So I told my staff: Anything at all that feels negative, just block ‘em. These people have the impression I am this horrible fascist ogre.

“When you get 4,000 responses a day from Twitter and Facebook, you don’t have an opportunity to sift through them with a fine-tooth comb to see which are legit. My instruction to staff was, ‘If you get something at all that looks like a troll, delete it.’ That’s why folks who might otherwise be legitimate news sources might have been blocked. It’s not like we’re not interested in having conversations.”

As to the issue of threats, I believe him. Legislative sessions bring out the worst in some people, and this bill takes the award for Most Likely to Cause Someone to Completely Lose Their Mind; but this was a terrible strategy, and only widened the target now planted firmly on Villalba’s back.

Not that he cares all that much.

What does Villalba have to say to his detractors? Mostly…

We’ll keep you updated on the bill’s progress.


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So if the cop walks toward the person who is recording him, does that person have to stop recording or back up?

    Awing1 in reply to myiq2xu. | March 23, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    According to his response to questions about that:

    “They can always step back 25 feet…all we’re saying is step back a few feet”

    Villalba’s answer would be “yes”. Does this mean I have to turn off my dash cam if I pass a cop with someone pulled over off a one way street? Would someone wearing Google Glass be required to always know how close they are to police, and look away if they’re too close? Changing it from 25 feet to 15 feet seems tone-deaf.

The guy is still a moron.

I can think of a lot of situations in which a citizen will end up being within the 15 feet radius.

It’s a bad law.

“All we’re saying is provide [police] a halo. Give them a little room. We’re not saying don’t film. We’re not saying stop. We’re saying just step back a little bit,” explained Villalba.

Or be prosecuted.

How ’bout we just ask people to use some common sense, and don’t threaten them with prosecution for a crime.

IF they actually DO a criminal act, those are already on the books.

How ’bout YOU step back a bit…???

“As to the issue of threats, I believe him”

I don’t. Standard MO for these kind of idiots is, at the first sign of pushback, declare martyr status because of “death threats”.

Can’t believe this moron is a Republican. He needs to be recalled.

His constant use of “haters” is another tell. Little prima donna. I think he’s full of it.

“Look at me look at me!”

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Fen. | March 24, 2015 at 3:02 am

    The closer the crowd gets, the more it gets their blood up. They feed violence and rage, either trumped-up or real due to indoctrination, off one another exponentially. The mob is an ever-growing hive of synchronous violence and pro-black racism. I think we know who the “haters” are, and it’s not the Amish or the crackas or the Christians or the Jews.

    These mobs are almost solely made up of agitators with a narrative they are pushing in order to grow more anarchy, more control and power, more freebies, and yet more violence.

    Grousing about 25′ of clearance from a restless crowd? We have to move over for road work crews and emergency vehicles, yet somehow it’s asking for the moon to give a cop who puts his or her life on the line every day for some space so they can focus on the job at hand instead of having to watch their back every second while trying to observe possible criminal conduct or making an arrest. Okay.

      We already have laws on the books against interfering with police in the discharge of their duties. Why do we need yet one more? Does every activity require its own special law?

        JackRussellTerrierist in reply to ss396. | March 24, 2015 at 11:05 pm

        “Interfering” is subjective and rather open to interpretation. It’s usually charged when somebody physically tries to stop an officer from carrying out his duties, such as pulling a suspect away from the officer, trying to stop handcuffing, blocking the officer’s way, etc.. What I’m talking about is different. It would prevent some interferences, yes, but mostly what it accomplishes is taking some pressure off the officer in tense situations before interference occurs by requiring people to stay back. There would be less threat of an irate person grabbing the officer’s gun, for instance. It’s really no different than barricading a crime scene to preserve evidence, or laws requiring motorists to move over for road crews and emergency vehicles. It would improve safety for all and lower the volume on this crap. Our elected officials, the courts, and many governmental agencies are protected by electronic devices and physical boundaries enforced by LE. We certainly don’t get to just go in and harass, heckle, threaten and film these people while they’re doing their jobs, do we? No.

Rather than admit you blew it, call your critics “haters.” Then drag your cute little daughter into it for emotional deflection. Par for the course for the modern politician.

“Maybe the haters can add this to my new Recall page.”

When someone uses the terms “haters” or “bullies”, you know that person has done or said something stupid and is now just whining because he got his poor little feelings hurt.

The law in every state already makes it a crime to interfere with a police officer in the lawful execution of his duties. It is impossible to set a specific distance that is applicable to all circumstances, and unnecessary since the law already ensures no interference.

The worst part is that in many places, cops assume they have the power to not only stop recording of their public actions, but to confiscate cameras and phones.

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Estragon. | March 24, 2015 at 2:45 am

    Tell the spouse and kids of a deceased officer that the shooter who grabbed the now-deceased officer’s weapon that the shooter was ‘interfering’ and going to prison.

    That’ll make it all better.

      It’s illegal to grab a cop’s gun and shoot him with it.
      It’s not illegal for someone else to film that.
      It’s really that simple.

      If you’re actually physically interfering with police business, you can be charged with obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct, but merely filming police business by itself cannot be deemed an obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct. The First Amendment does not allow state law to reach that far. And that’s a good thing.

        JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Amy in FL. | March 24, 2015 at 11:30 pm

        It’s not that simple, except perhaps for the simple-minded who have never been in the situation these officers are faced with more and more frequently. Tell the spouse and kids of the dead officer that grabbing the now-deceased officer’s gun was illegal. I’m sure they never would have guessed that.

        Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you and most others that the reason the crowd presses closer and closer with their recording devices is because other people keep getting in front of them, closer and closer to the action, so then they move in further, and so on. If they had to stay 25′ back, they would not be able to keep pressing in on the officers. There’d actually be a broader viewing point for more people than what we have now, which is a bunch of morons pushing and shoving into and ever-shrinking vantage point. They can use their zoom-in features if they like.

        The police aren’t putting on a show. That’s not why they’re called out to these scenes. They’re not ‘entertainment’. Having a crowd almost on top of them aggravates the tensions and can cause injuries, even deaths, that need not happen if the officer wasn’t so distracted by people holding small, black devices in their hands, which I will remind you have been mistaken for guns in the past.

        Most would wet their pants if they were confronted with a pushing, shoving, angry mob closing in on them, cameras or no cameras.

        Do bystanders have the right to record? Absolutely. Should they? Absolutely. Do they have the right to endanger others, such as peace officers sworn to do their duty and keep the peace? Absolutely not.

    MarkS in reply to Estragon. | March 24, 2015 at 6:42 am

    Cops frequently claim the recording is evidence and therefore collectable.

      Bruce Hayden in reply to MarkS. | March 24, 2015 at 9:45 am

      Which is probably a good thing – except that it is apparently abused on a somewhat regular basis by the police. And, I think that it would be esp. problematic if and when the issue involves officer misconduct – which is why the police don’t want themselves video recorded in the first place.

      The answer is not to give up cell phones to the police to do with however they wish. They don’t have the legal right to such, and there is little reason to believe that this won’t be abused on occasion. What probably should happen is that they do not access the contents of a cell phone (etc.) without a warrant, and when they do, pursuant to the warrant, they have minimization procedures in place that make sure that no data is destroyed, and they cannot/do not go on a hunting expedition throughout the phone.

        JackRussellTerrierist in reply to Bruce Hayden. | March 25, 2015 at 12:27 am

        Most officers act within the law.

        Let’s look at the other side of your clearly biased coin: If it hasn’t occurred to you that officers dislike the recordings because of the device owner’s ability or the media’s ability to download and edit the footage to make the officer(s) appear guilty of wrongdoing, then blast it into cyberspace, it should have. Enter the politics and Benjamin Crump, Al Sharpton, etc.. There goes their years of good service and training, their career, their finances, all that they have, their family under siege, their kids being bullied, the entire family having to (hopefully) endure the humiliation and the threats. Let me remind you of the media editing raw 911 audio and photo-shopping photos of George Zimmerman and the attempts made by the supposed bystander (who was laughed out of the GJ for his grandstanding and his lies) to edit video in the Eric Garner case. And that doesn’t even get into the issue of misconstrued footage because it doesn’t encompass the entire incident.

        There are your reasons. All but a few cops show exemplary restraint in handling these thugs and idiots, every last one of them dangerous enough to end a life RIGHT NOW, including that of a bystander too stupid to get back. So the idiot bystander gets injured. They sue the PD. Who pays? YOU pay.

        As a retired LE deputy sheriff, sheriff’s detective and DA investigator of 27+ years and having seen, observed and worked with a thousand other officers and investigators during those years AND worked Internal Affairs for a stint, I find your insinuation offensive as all hell.

JackRussellTerrierist | March 24, 2015 at 2:42 am

I admit not having read the proposed bill, but I would be in favor of a requirement that all bystanders, including all journalists and cameramen, stay 25 feet back from any encounter between police and a suspect being arrested. It can be difficult enough, as we have all seen, to take an idiot into custody while worrying about your own safety and that of bystanders who grow bolder and bolder. A pressing crowd heightens the stress on both the officers and the suspect. 25 feet is enough to record and see all that needs to be seen by a civilian. The media have booms, cherry pickers, telephoto lenses, zoom capability, etc. to record as they please.

It would be up to the DA to decide whether or not to prosecute, which would probably be a function of how aggressive and intentional the violation was. Most ordinary violators who weren’t creating a problem wouldn’t be arrested anyway, just as a matter of logistics and practicality.

Cops have a hard enough job without having a hostile crowd so close you have to worry about one or more of them attacking you or lunging for your weapon, or accidentally getting smacked and then suing the PD for their own stupidity by getting too close.

Legislatures, governmental bodies and the military all have security and firewalls to protect them. The cops have nothing but their training, street smarts, judgment and their weapon to control the on-scene unknown and unseen. They work “in the moment”.

    Police already have the authority to tell bystanders to back off, move to a specified location, and so on, and to arrest those who do not comply.

    There’s no need for a new bill that specifically targets *only* people holding cameras. End of story.

    Unless, of course, the aim is to suppress the taping of officers rather than simply to give them room to safely work…

    The other gotcha in a “no taping within X feet” bill is that it hands the cops an excuse not just to tell the cameraman to back off, but to confiscate the camera and video (“hey, you were taping me as I walked within 15 feet of you, that’s an illegal recording, so I’ll take that now”).

I am strongly in favor of any and all legislation, especially legislation with teeth in it, that enables LEOs to safely to do their job.

I have seen a lot of videos of these crowds with zero “common sense” making themselves part of the problem.

It is quite obvious by now that the savages, if they do possess a lick of sense, choose not to use it.

Cameras in this day in age, even in smartphones, possess higher clarity than ever and they can zoom in just fine. Journalists, citizen and professional alike, do not need to be practically breathing down the officer’s neck.

I’d love to link a few worldstar hip hop and liveleak videos, but I fear they may be a bit too graphic for the tender sensibilities of some here. Google is your friend.

    If the concern is officer safety, then it’s odd that it only affects people holding cameras, eh? So then a dozen or so people in a mob can crowd the officer just as long as they’re not filming at the time?

    This bill isn’t about safety (or else it would apply to everyone, not just people running a camera). It’s about intimidating those who film.

The law would seemingly criminalize recording your own encounter with police, or police in your home, or at a traffic stop.

Chuck Skinner wrote what I thought was a very perceptive comment about this here earlier. The tl;dr is “In short, this is all about imposing a ‘COST’ on filming the police. Whenever there is a cost, there will be a decrease in the activity.” But read the whole thing.

Another troubling part of this is the ambiguity in filming. We all know a person could have a phone to their ear, pretending to talk, yet the lens is pointed somewhere and taking video. Or, they could actually be talking to someone and not getting video – how can you tell? The burden is not going to be placed on the police. It’ll be placed on the person they roll up and arrest on ‘suspicion’ of filming them.

I empathize with the police and understand they have a difficult job at times. But things are getting out of control in my opinion. I watched the video of police shooting the guy with mental illness that had a screwdriver. He came forward but there was no indication he was trying to attack or inflict injury, not that I could identify. Plus, he had a tiny screwdriver and the police had body armor, guns, more than one person there, taser, and probably mace and probably a baton. The guy’s mother answered the door, and said her son was messed up, but she wasnt scared, she walked out to allow the police to talk to him, and as soon as he crossed the threshold they shot him, then yelled at him to let go of the screwdriver while he bled to death and his mother was screaming. That guy needed professional mental health care, not a violent death. If two police officers with all that stuff can’t handle a guy with obvious psychological problems, holding a very small screwdriver, then we have a problem with the police and their training.

All of this stuff tells me our police are not well trained and they’re out there on the job and scared or really abusing their power. Neither one is good for them or the rest of society.

    DaveGinOly in reply to TtT. | March 24, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    The police are being militarized, and it’s not the military hardware that we need to be afraid of – it’s the military tactics, employed inappropriately (and sometimes irresponsibly) in domestic law enforcement situations and the adversarial mindset that are the problems. All the military gear in the world presents no special threat to the public if appropriate tactics are used. Deputy Fife, with his gun and one round of ammunition, can cause a disaster with the use of inappropriate tactics and the incorrect belief that his primary job is to go home safely at night. The adversarial mindset and “officer safety first” attitude is too often fatal for innocent citizens. It’s time to teach officers that their primary job is the protection of the citizens and the communities they serve, and that “officer safety” is a secondary consideration. When the two conflict, their duty, their policy, and their training should lead them to err on the side of the citizen’s safety, rather than their own (“First, do no harm,” should be the mantra). We don’t pay them to accidentally kill one of us now and then; we pay them to shield us with their bodies, if necessary. Modern police, who almost all wear, or have available to wear, body armor, are much better prepared to confront a violent attacker than ever before, yet they use tactics that are far more aggressive and violent themselves. Why? Because “officer safety” has taken a front seat, and “citizen safety” has been moved to the back of the bus.

    Our troops in foreign lands operate under stricter “rules of engagement” (e.g., can’t fire unless fired upon, a rule that would have preserved the life of a 12 year old boy a few months ago) than do our domestic police forces.

      JackRussellTerrierist in reply to DaveGinOly. | March 25, 2015 at 1:23 am

      “…shield us with their bodies”?

      What a load. Many do it instinctively, but it is NOT their duty to throw themselves in front of a bullet because you were too stupid to get down. Do they do it? Yeah, they do it, especially is they’re wearing a vest. I’ve tackled morons too stupid to get behind a barricade or lay down. The stupidity of such people is inexcusable because they have an expectation that all will be good because some cop is just going to throw himself in front of a bullet while you lollygag and rubberneck the situation. Know that when you do that, unless you are a kid, handicapped, elderly, or a housewife with kids and a stroller, the cop would like to slap you silly but doesn’t.

      The adversarial mindset that your life is priceless and the cop is just a crash dummy built to take the hit for you is the fantasy of an elitist tyrant. Your post seethes with narcissism and the delusional notion of superiority.

      You need to read the plethora of cases over the last thirty or so years in which it was decided by the UUSC and again and again by appellate courts that the police have no duty to protect you as an individual. You should also read the Public Duty Doctrine.

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to TtT. | March 25, 2015 at 12:44 am

    You make some good points, but please keep in mind the amped-up pressure placed on police now by this administration and by the breakdown in certain sectors of the culture already prone to senseless violence.

    You have one man with one gun, a family to go home to that needs him, and an investment in his career and future.

    In this country today, there is not much difference between what police officers face and what our soldiers deployed to battle zones faced.

    Would you all speak so ill of them? I doubt it.

    That thin blue line of police officers so many of you are quick to ridicule and suspect of deviousness, cynicism and wrongdoing are all that stands between you and pure, unadulterated anarchy. You play right into the hands of Holder and his ilk when you hold police to a standard you could not meet, that no human being can meet. They are not robots, they are not gladiators, and they are not showmen.