Lawmaker proposes bill supporting 'cop watching'

A Dallas lawmaker is proposing a bill he says would guarantee the right to "cop watch," as long as it doesn't interfere with police work.

Cop watching is when citizens use cell phones to record the police.

Dallas State Representative Eric Johnson filed the bill and says it will increase police transparency and that it's needed to provide a perfect picture of police at work and the rights of Texans.

House Bill 1035 would guarantee your right to film police in public as long as you don't interfere with or obstruct officers, and the bill says police cannot seize your smart phone or other recording device.

"What we want to do is make clear what the federal courts have ruled and make clear that what we believe the law to be already, and codify it in state statute that a citizen of Texas has an inherent right to film a police officer performing their duties in a public place," said Johnson.

Johnson's proposed bill would prevent police from taking recording devices and deleting any images.

"We've made the bill require that the citizen be at a safe distance and not interfering with the police doing their job in order to be able to do this," said Johnson.

"What's the safe distance?" asked FOX 4's Shaun Rabb.

"There's not a particular distance," said Johnson. "It's really up to the…frankly, it's up to the officer to determine in the situation what's an appropriate distance for them to be, because situations can vary so wildly."

Retired federal judge and former police officer Joe Kendall says if the bill becomes law, it could come with what he calls unintended consequences.

"If we legislatively encourage some person getting up in an officer's business, then I just think that that's…it's dangerous for all involved," said Kendall.

Kendall wonders about what he calls unintended consequences with cop watchers, especially with cell phones.

"And instead of black like mine, maybe it's white, maybe it's chrome case," said Kendall. "At night, the officer turns, sees that, he does not know what's going on. It is, in my view, has the potentiality for some very bad things happening."

While that "safe distance" may be an issue, Johnson says the camera doesn't lie.

"Either way, neither distance, close or far, will affect the fact that the law says you can't confiscate and delete the footage without the person's consent," said Johnson.

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