For more than a decade, Louisiana has had a law on the books that outlaws interfering with or obstructing a police investigation at the scene of a crime or accident, or defying orders to leave the immediate scene by officers performing their official duties.
This is a reasonable approach to balancing the necessary work of law enforcement and the public’s right to observe that work in action. And we see no reason to further restrict access, particularly in a way that would add confusion and risk to already tense situations.
Yet lawmakers in Baton Rouge are debating legislation to do just that. House Bill 85 by state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, would make it a crime to be within 25 feet of law enforcement officers on a scene, if ordered to move by officers. The penalty for the misdemeanor charge would be up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.
Johnson said the goal of the bill is to create a “safe space” in which officers can do their work.
But how much space? We doubt most people — including officers — could tell their exact distance apart by eyeballing it; the uncertainty could lead to confrontations over the limit itself and quite possibly wrongful arrests based on he-said/she-said scenarios.
We agree with opponents’ concerns that the restriction could prevent lawful recording of law enforcement actions; citizen recordings have proven pivotal in holding abusive cops to account, most famously for the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. They’re also explicitly allowed under the New Orleans Police Department’s federal civil rights consent decree.
HB 85 has been approved by the House and a Senate committee and awaits action in the full Senate. If it were to become law, we’d expect a legal challenge.
Lawmakers shouldn’t let it get that far. Johnson's proposal creates far more problems than it purports to solve.