Austin police officials say they won’t ask members of the public who film officers to stay 50 to 60 feet away from them as indicated in an August news conference after the arrest of a local activist, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Assistant Police Chief Sean Mannix believes it would be “arbitrary” to assign a certain distance between officers and people who might be filming them, as well as difficult to enforce. “I don’t think there’s a practical way of doing that,” Mannix said. “There is no magic number of feet. The officer is going to make a determination of how much of a buffer zone they’re going to need to keep themselves safe, and they’ll communicate that to folks at the time.”
Mannix’s statements represent a change in direction from comments police officials made last month, after activist Antonio Buehler was charged with interference with public duties when police said his actions compromised an arrest they were making downtown. At the time, Commander Troy Gay, who oversees downtown patrols, said he would like people filming police to stay 50 to 60 feet away. Mannix said department officials never seriously contemplated quantified distance restrictions on filming. “Our basic rule of thumb is if an officer has to pay more attention to you than the business at hand, and they let you know that, you’re interfering with their duties at that point,” Mannix said.