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Atlanta officer caught texting in car: But is that illegal?

A texting Atlanta police officer has Facebook fuming. But was he doing anything illegal?

ATLANTA -- A local social media community is split after a video showing an officer texting while sitting in a patrol car spread across Facebook Tuesday.

The video was allegedly taken July 3 and while it's not clear from the video itself, the poster insinuates that the officer is stopped but not parked as required by law. But it's that very law that may leave this unknown officer in the clear. Georgia's new hands-free law went into effect on July 1 making it illegal for most motorists to have a phone in their hand while on the road, whether sitting or moving.

In the law itself, there is a stipulation that emergency responders and police aren't required to adhere to it. The other point is that, technically, texting on the road was already illegal in Georgia before July 1 - but again, only for the average driver.

In that law, there are actually others who are exempt as well including:

(1) A person reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, fire, serious road hazard, or a situation in which the person reasonably believes a person's health or safety is in immediate jeopardy;

(2) A person reporting the perpetration or potential perpetration of a crime;

(3) A public utility employee or contractor acting within the scope of his or her employment when responding to a public utility emergency;

(4) A law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical services personnel, ambulance driver, or other similarly employed public safety first responder during the performance of his or her official duties; or

(5) A person engaging in wireless communication while in a motor vehicle which is lawfully parked.

Whether this was a case of texting while working in an official capacity or not isn't clear, however, the Atlanta Police Department released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

The new hands-free law in Georgia has an exemption for law enforcement personnel using a cellphone in an official capacity, and there are times when doing so is absolutely necessary and appropriate. Having said that, distracted driving is a real issue that causes real harm, so we are encouraging our officers to use the highest level of regard for safety on the road, just as we would expect from any driver.

This actually isn't the first time local departments have faced the scorn of the public over phone use.

In 2015, 11Alive fielded similar questions about a Cobb County officer caught in much the same way - in a photo on social media. The officer later claimed she was not texting but using the GPS function on her phone.

Another photo showing a DeKalb officer texting while moving also appeared online previously and resurfaced several months later online.

Authorities were never able to identify the officer involved though they also referred back to the exemption that said that it technically wasn't illegal for officers.

Georgia state law allows police to text while driving

Everything you need to know about Georgia's Hands-Free Law

How Georgia's hands-free law compares to measures in other states

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