Friday, May 17, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers could provide ‘zone of protection’ for police on duty

by BIZ Magazine

Opponents say it would prevent recording of law enforcement interactions

(The Center Square) — Approaching a police officer on duty who orders otherwise could become a misdemeanor in Louisiana under legislation moving through the House.

House Bill 85 is awaiting a vote on the floor of the House after members of the Administration of Criminal Justice Committee voted 8-1 to approve the measure on Tuesday.

The measure “is designed for the protection of our police officers and anyone who would approach a police officer while they’re engaged … in their official duties,” sponsor Rep. Mike Johnson, R-East Pineville, told the committee.

“It sets up a 25-foot zone of protection where if the police officer requests … they would need to back up at least 25 feet, and failure to do so would subject them to the possibility of a misdemeanor, which has a $500 fine or 60 days in jail,” he said.

The bill isn’t designed to prevent the public from video recording or having contact, “but simply a bill to add a zone of protection,” Johnson said.

The legislation is backed by the state’s sheriffs’ association, district attorneys association, chiefs of police, the Baton Rouge Union of Police, and VOTE, while the ACLU and Louisiana Survivors for Reform Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and dozens of others oppose the bill.

Opponents argued HB 85 would criminalize crime victims who attempt to video record police interactions, as well as those overwhelmed with emotion during traumatizing events.

“These are situations that will be made significantly worse if there’s jail time and fines for survivors in these situations,” said Katie Hunter-Lowery, lead organizer for Louisiana Survivors for Reform.

Stephanie Willis, policy strategist for ACLU Louisiana, suggested HB 85 would effectively prevent citizens from recording officer interactions, which she claimed would erode police accountability and violate free speech protections.

“If you think about it, 25 feet is actually a great distance,” she said. “The bill in itself does not lend the opportunity for individuals to actually exercise their First Amendment right and to do it in a manner that can promote police accountability.”

Others who testified highlighted a lack of body cameras for many police departments, the difficulty of determining 25 feet and existing law that prevents police interference.

Johnson countered that 25 feet is sufficient to effectively record police interactions, which the bill does not prevent.

“Any suggestion that this in any way, shape, or form denies somebody the opportunity to film is just not accurate,” he said. “It doesn’t prevent in any way First Amendment rights. It doesn’t prevent communication with a police officer.

“It just sets a bodily separation between the officer trying to do his job and anyone, friend or foe, walking up to them,” Johnson said. “This is for me a common-sense safety issue for all involved.”

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