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House bill headed to Senate would limit how close public could get to police at a scene

Under the proposed law, the public would have to stay back from police by at least 25 feet if an officer ordered that.

INDIANAPOLIS — A proposed law that would create a perimeter around police officers while they're conducting an investigation is drawing praise and criticism. 

House Bill 1186 was passed by the House this week and now heads to the Senate for lawmakers there to get a look at the proposed legislation. 

The bill's author, Republican Rep. Wendy McNamara said she put together the legislation after hearing concerns from police that they've had issues with keeping bystanders back at a safe distance.

Critics say if this proposed legislation becomes law, it will take away the public's ability to observe police if questions come up about their conduct.

"In order to ensure police accountability, citizens and the media need to be able to observe them," said Katie Blair with the ACLU of Indiana, adding that HB 1186 would hinder that. 

Under the law, the public would have to stay back from police by at least 25 feet if an officer ordered that. If not, the person ignoring the officer's request could face a Class C misdemeanor. 

The penalty for that carries a maximum $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. 

The 25-foot rule wouldn't be used automatically — only if an officer determined it was necessary. 

Supporters of the legislation, like the Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police, say it helps ensure the safety of not just police, but all first responders, like fire crews and EMTs at a scene. 

"It gives them the ability to clear a scene and make sure they have the ability to work without any kind of physical confrontation or at least gives them the ability to arrest somebody if they refuse to move after being told to because the situation presented itself," said Indiana State FOP President William Owensby. 

Owensby pointed to today's technology that allows cellphone cameras to zoom in when recording video. 

"You can record from 50 feet away and get a perfectly clear picture. It isn't like we're trying to thwart someone from filming an incident at all," Owensby said.

But Blair said that's not the concern.

"This isn't all about recording. it's about observation," Blair said.

The bill's author said it's about safety — officers' and the public's. McNamara issued the following statement statement to 13News Friday: 

"Our public safety officers have important work to do, and their jobs often involve dangerous and unpredictable situations. 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." 

House Bill 1186 is now headed to the Senate.

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