By CHRIS AGEE
State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, recently filed Senate Bill 897 in an effort to protect the rights of residents to record police activity on camera.
Estes, who represents Palo Pinto County as part of Senate District 30, proposed the “Freedom to Film Act,” as it is also known, in response to a growing trend of citizens documenting officers on smart phones and other convenient cameras.
According to a press release, Estes noted a rise in cases of individuals being harassed by officers for capturing their activities on film. SB 897 would declare citizens filming police during normal duties are protected under the law.
“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,” he explained.
Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan said the right of individuals to hold officers accountable should be automatic.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “I don’t know why there needs to be a bill.”
Sullivan explained citizens should be allowed to view and document activity taking place in the open.
“The plain view law standard that affords police to take action in certain instances where there are violations of the law readily apparent, that should work both ways,” he said. “If there’s something in plain view – given the caveat of undercover operations – as far as the day-to-day goings on of the police, I don’t have a problem with it in the age we live now.”
Should a citizen be charged with interference with public duties or any other related charge stemming from filming law enforcement and is later acquitted, the bill also allows he or she to recover court costs related to defending against the charges.
“The police are public servants,” Estes said, “so they should not be doing anything that they would not want caught on film.”
Sullivan echoed Estes’ opinion, noting, “Officers don’t need to be conducting themselves in a manner which is not conductive to the service we provide.”