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New Arizona Law Requires Citizens To Stay At Least 8 Feet Away From Cops While Filming

Phoenix, AZ – Filming law enforcement officers at close range is now a misdemeanor offense in Arizona.

Under the terms of the bill, which was signed into law by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on July 6, civilians are prohibited from knowingly recording law enforcement officers from any closer than eight feet away unless they are given permission to do so under most circumstances, NPR reported.

Someone convicted under the new law could face up to $500 in fines, a max of 30 days in jail, and up to one year of probation, according to FOX News.

Individuals directly involved in an encounter with police will still be able to record the interaction, as long as they are not being searched or arrested, NPR reported.

The law applies anytime an officer is issuing a summons, conducting an arrest, questioning a suspicious person, enforcing the law, or dealing with a disorderly or emotionally disturbed person who is exhibiting abnormal behavior, according to Axios.

Officers are required to issue at least one warning before charging someone for violating the new law, FOX News reported.

The bill was sponsored by State Representative John Kavanagh (R – District 23), who is also a retired law enforcement officer, Arizona PBS reported.

“I was as cop for 20 years, I made a lot of arrests, sometimes [in] tense situations. So, I know what goes through a police officer’s mind when they are doing law enforcement,” Kavanagh told the news outlet.

He said that nearly everyone carries a video-recording device with them at all times, and that it is not uncommon for people to film police officers who are dealing with members of the public.

“Some organized groups even follow cops around and tape the encounters, and I fully can see that there is a constitutional right to do that,” Kavanagh noted.

He said the new law attempts to “balance the person who’s filming this constitutional right to document the encounter, with safety considerations and law enforcement evidence preservation considerations of the police officer,” Arizona PBS reported.

“Nobody walks up to a cop when he is questioning a suspicious person or arresting somebody and stands one or two feet away,” he added. “Common sense says you’re asking for trouble. You’re either going to be mistaken for an accomplice, and the cop might turn around to attack you, or you’ll distract the cop.”

“Even if you are perfectly innocent, if the cop is looking at you, the perpetrator might hit the cop, escape, or discard evidence. Which, by the way, happened to me on several occasions,” Kavanagh told Arizona PBS.

The law helps to protect law enforcement officers from individuals who “either have very poor judgement or sinister motives,” he said, according to NPR.

“I’m pleased that a very reasonable law that promotes the safety of police officers and those involved in police stops and bystanders has been signed into law,” Kavanagh told the news outlet one day after it received Ducey’s endorsement. “It promotes everybody’s safety, yet still allows people to reasonably videotape police activity, as is their right.”

But American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona staff attorney K.M. Bell said that the new state law, which goes into effect on Sept. 24, violates citizens’ civil rights, NPR reported.

Bell noted that federal appellate courts have previously ruled that videotaping law enforcement officers is “a clearly established right.”

Phoenix activist Jarrett Maupin said he believes the new law is just a way to help law enforcement officers to avoid accountability, NPR reported.

“Proximity is not a luxury in terms of documenting the actions of officers who engage in acts of brutality,” Maupin argued. “Sometimes the victims and the bystanders have no choice but to be within the proximity that the bill now prohibits.”

National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) general counsel Mickey Osterreicher said the law is “unworkable” and “arbitrary,” especially in situations such as protests, NPR reported.

“We had hoped to be able to do this the easy way, unfortunately it seems that the state of Arizona has done this the hard way,” Osterreicher said.

Bell said the ACLU of Arizona is “investigating all possible options for addressing this unconstitutional law,” NPR reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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