EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) — A proposed bill that might land you in jail for getting too close to first-responders now heads to the Senate.
Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville) authored the bill in hopes of creating a perimeter around law enforcement officers while conducting an investigation.
If passed, McNamara’s bill would require bystanders to stay 25 feet away from law enforcement officials while they work.
McNamara says she came up with the legislation after talking to local law enforcement officers and hearing their concerns over unnecessary distractions bystanders can sometimes cause.
“Our public safety officers have important work to do, and their jobs often involve dangerous and unpredictable situations,” McNamara said. “The goal of this bill is to give officers another tool to help control a scene to maintain their safety and the public’s safety.”
Under House Bill 1186, anyone who knowingly or intentionally approaches within 25 feet of a law enforcement officer after being ordered to stop could face a Class C misdemeanor. Lawmakers say the penalty carries a maximum $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
Vanderburgh County Sheriff Noah Robinson says he supports the new bill.
“They almost have to touch you before you can tell them to move away from you. So you can imagine trying to take someone into custody and investigate a crime, and someone is getting in your face or getting right on top of you as your trying to do your job. I can’t provide services or arrest someone when I have to worry about someone an inch behind me screaming in my ear,” says Robinson.
Even with those concerns, critics of the bill think that it could interfere with the public being able to keep police accountable.
“God knows I want every police officer to come home at the end of the day – but I also want our public to have the rights to be able to videotape,” says Rep. John Bartlett (D – Indianapolis).
According to Rep. McNamara, the Evansville Fraternal Order of Police, the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police and the Indiana Sheriff’s Association support her legislation.
The bill passed the house 75-20. From Southwestern Indiana, Rep. Matt Hostetler (R) and Ryan Hatfield (D) voted against the bill due to concerns about police accountability.