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Law enforcement protection bills create stir over police accountability

Oklahoma Capitol building
Posted at 7:02 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 20:05:49-05

TULSA, Okla. — Companion bills in the Oklahoma state legislature are trying to make it illegal to use personal information to expose a law enforcement officer. This includes an officer's name, law enforcement agency, and video and pictures of the officer.

"It's only getting worse, so we need to take some measures to protect the peace officers and their families," said Rep. Stan May (R) of Broken Arrow, Okla.

May is on the State House Judiciary-Criminal Committee that passed the House Bill 2273unanimously. Its partner bill in the state senate, Senate Bill 6, also passed.

Language in the legislation makes it illegal to publish a law enforcement officer's personal information online to threaten, intimidate, harass or stalk the officer. This includes any act to cause substantial emotional distress or financial loss to an officer.

"This is a dangerous enough job as it is," Wagoner County Sheriff Chris Elliott said. "When we get done with our shift and go home and walk back to our homes, we should be afforded an expectation of privacy."

Legislators in the State House of Representatives told 2 Works for You, the idea for the legislation came after video of the killing of Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson made its way around social media, last year.

Civil rights activists on the other side of the bill believe prohibiting picture and video posting online shuts down the public's right to hold police accountable.

"There are a lot of racist and sexist cops out there that are doing these things that they want to cover up," Tykebrean Cheshier, a Black Lives Matter movement organizer in Tulsa, said. "It's technically a license to kill without accountability."

Cheshier and Sen. Kevin Matthews (D) of Tulsa, Okla. told 2 Works for You if these bills become law, deaths in police custody captured on camera, like the death of George Floyd, would go unnoticed.

"If there is no accountability then it'll just continue to happen," Cheshier said.

Matthews actually voted in favor of the bill passing through State Senate Commission on Appropriations, but told 2 Works for You, he plans to vote against it on the Senate floor due to the bill potentially affecting social media posts of police.

"I asked specifically about people videotaping. I asked, 'Are you saying if they don't videotape that and because they're wearing a name tag that would be illegal and they would get in trouble?'. I was told 'no'," Matthews said. "I think it's a bad deal, and I'm disappointed that I asked those questions and they answered no."

The next step for both bills is to be introduced for hearing on full house and senate floors. If legalized, a violator of the law would face a misdemeanor charge. Any subsequent offense is a felony.

If signed into law, they'll go into effect on Nov. 1, 2021.

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