Section 38.15 of the Texas Penal Code makes it an offense to interrupt, disrupt, impede, or otherwise interfere with “public duties,” including those being exercised by a police officer. That’s the law pretty much everywhere, of course, but the question that has arisen in recent years is whether you are “interfering” (etc.) with a police officer just because you are recording what he or she is doing.
Actually, that’s not a serious question, it’s just something bad cops say because they don’t want to be recorded. The argument boils down to, “I had to stop what I was doing and come over and kick your ass because you were recording me, and you therefore interrupted my exercise of a public duty.” It’s a hilariously bad argument that way too many officers have gotten away with.
The Texas statute doesn’t say anything specific about recording, although it does say a person can’t be prosecuted if the interfering acts “consisted of speech only.” That would probably also cover “expressive conduct” (i.e., the middle finger) which also counts as speech under the First Amendment, but what about recording? Yes, say courts who don’t hate freedom, that’s protected too because it is “fundamental and virtually self-evident” that the reason for the recording is so you have proof when you tell somebody what happened. It is therefore unconstitutional to punish someone for doing that, whether via criminal prosecution or the more expedited procedure of just shooting them.
Okay, now along comes Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) with H.B. 2918. This bill would amend section 38.15 to expressly include within the definition of “interference” the conduct of “filming, recording, photographing, or documenting the officer within 25 feet of the officer,” or doing so “within 100 feet of the officer” if you are also carrying a concealed handgun.
Of course, the officer is always going to be “within 25 feet of the officer,” but let’s assume he meant to say that the person doing the filming must stay more than 25 feet away. (The 100-foot distinction makes no sense to me either, but let’s set that aside.) Villalba says the provision is only meant to provide a buffer zone—or as he insists on putting it, a “halo”—around police officers so they can do their jobs without interference. But the law already precludes actualinterference, so this provision adds nothing in that sense. And by legally defining any recording within 25 feet as “interference,” it plainly authorizes police to arrest anyone who’s doing that, whether they are actuallyinterfering or not.