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Crimewatch: APA fears group's efforts to keep an eye on police may lead to violence

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The Austin Police Association fears escalation, even violence, after a local activist group announced its stepping up efforts to record officers working.

The Peaceful Streets Project started something called "Wagner Watch," named after Austin Police Officer, Nathan Wagner, who shot and killed Byron Carter Junior in May 2011.

After a federal jury sided with Wagner and determined he did not use excessive force when he shot and killed the 20-year-old, Peaceful Streets Project Founder, Antonio Buehler, says he is now keeping a close watch on Officer Wagner and his associates.

"We're requesting more of our volunteers downtown so we can keep an eye on Wagner and increase the scrutiny on this particular cop," Buehler said.

Austin Police Association President Wayne Vincent.

"We fully are afraid that this thing is going to turn violent before it's over because Buehler keeps escalating the harassment. Our officers are out there with absolutely no relief from this kind of harassment and it's not going to end well," Vincent said. "There's not a thing wrong with citizens filming officers. If their intent is to try to catch an officer in misconduct, it would seem to me you would want to film quietly where the police wouldn't even know you were there. These people we're talking about get in our officers faces, follow them around, constantly walk into the scene and constantly talking to the people we're trying to deal with. This isn't about police accountability, this is about provoking and harassing officers to try to get the officers react."

Buehler says that's not true.

"We don't get in the way, we don't ever interact with them when they're engaged in a stop. The only time we interact with them is when they interact with us. When they go after us and they tell us to move back some arbitrary distance, interfere with what we're doing, we've never gotten between a cop and a suspect," he said.

In New York, though, police officers are one step closer to getting a new law that would make it a crime to harass an officer. The state senate just passed a bill that would make it illegal to harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty. They must make physical contact. The bill garnered different reactions.

"I think that's garbage. Police are not the ones who need protection in society, it's the people," said Buehler.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," said Vincent.

Vincent says he is asking for help for officers on the streets from the APD Police Chief, the Travis County District Attorney's Office, and the Travis County Attorney's Office. The APA President says the help could be extra manpower for the officers on the streets when Buehler and volunteers show up to record.

He says there was a bill in this legislative session that would have made it illegal to announce the presence of undercover officers. Vincent says Buehler did exactly that.

"He has stalked our officers working undercover assignments and told the public these were police officers," says Vincent.

Buehler says the undercover operation was to catch underage drinkers and the officers were sitting in plain sight. He also says his group is not a threat to officers and that volunteers are just exercising their constitutional rights.

"When I hear Vincent say this garbage about how cops are scared and if we keep filming them, that we're going to put them in danger, then they need to find new jobs and we need to find new cops who can handle people standing there with cameras," said Buehler.

Buehler continues growing his Peaceful Streets Project. He says there are chapters now in New York City; Sandusky, Ohio; and Manchester, New Hampshire.

We reached out to Chief Art Acevedo through spokesperson Anna Sabana. He didn't want to do an on camera interview. Instead, Sabana says the Peaceful Streets Project is a non-issue for police. He also says if they cross the line and violate any law, they will be dealt with within the spirit and letter of the law.

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