In This State, Filming of Cops Is Now Restricted

It's now illegal in Arizona to knowingly record cop 8 feet away or closer without officer's OK
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 9, 2022 8:30 AM CDT
In This State, Filming of Cops Is Now Restricted
Phoenix Police stand in front of police headquarters on May 30, 2020, in Phoenix, waiting for demonstrators marching to protest the death of George Floyd.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Arizona's governor has signed a law that restricts how the public can video police at a time when there's growing pressure across the US for greater law-enforcement transparency. Civil rights and media groups opposed the measure that Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed Thursday. The law makes it illegal in Arizona to knowingly video police officers 8 feet away or closer without an officer's permission, per the AP. Someone on private property with the owner's consent can also be ordered to stop recording if a police officer finds they're interfering or the area isn't safe. The penalty is a misdemeanor that would likely incur a fine without jail time. The law makes exceptions for people who are the direct subject of police interaction. They can film as long as they're not being arrested or searched. Someone who is in a car stopped by police or is being questioned can also film the encounter.

There needs to be a law that protects officers from people who "either have very poor judgment or sinister motives," says Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, a former cop and the bill's sponsor. "I'm pleased that a very reasonable law that promotes the safety of police officers ... has been signed into law. ... It promotes everybody's safety, yet still allows people to reasonably videotape police activity, as is their right." The move comes nearly a year after the US Department of Justice launched a widespread probe into the police force in Phoenix to examine whether officers have been using excessive force and abusing people experiencing homelessness. It's similar to other investigations opened in recent months in Minneapolis and Louisville. The law has left opponents like KM Bell, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, incredulous.

Federal appellate courts already have ruled that recording police is "a clearly established right," according to Bell. "We're talking about people being in public and a place they have a right to be," Bells says. "We're not talking about ... somebody breaking into the [National Security Agency]." The new law doesn't make exceptions for the press, and media groups including, the AP, say the measure raises serious constitutional issues. Setting one-size-fits-all conditions like "arbitrary distances" of 8 feet for filming police just doesn't work, says Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association. "What happens when you're in situations like we saw during all of the protests for the past couple of years, where you have multiple people with cameras?" he notes. "And you've got multiple police officers. Is everybody going to be running around with a ruler?"

(More Arizona stories.)

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