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1st Amendment? Republican Small Gov’t?…. Arizona Bans Filming of Police

PHOENIX — 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 U.S. 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 (2.5 meters) or closer without an officer’s permission.

Someone on private property with the owner’s consent can also be ordered to stop recording if a police officer finds they are interfering or the area is not safe. The penalty is a misdemeanor that would likely incur a fine without jail time.

There needs to be a law that protects officers from people who “either have very poor judgment or sinister motives,” said Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, the bill’s sponsor.

“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 said Friday. “It promotes everybody’s safety yet still allows people to reasonably videotape police activity as is their right.”

The DOJ launched a probe into Phoenix police use of force nearly a year ago

The move comes nearly a year after the U.S. 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 Phoenix Police Department, which oversees the nation’s fifth-largest city, has been criticized in recent years for its use of force, which disproportionately affects Black and Native American residents.

The law has left opponents like K.M. 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.

The law won’t work in real-life scenarios.

“We’re talking about people being in public and a place they have a right to be. We’re not talking about, like somebody breaking into the (National Security Agency),” Bell said.

The law also makes exceptions for people who are the direct subject of police interaction. They can film as long as they are not being arrested or searched. Someone who is in a car stopped by police or is being questioned can also film the encounter.

“Those exceptions were based upon input from all sorts of people, including the ACLU,” he said.

Rumblings two years ago about anti-police groups who deliberately approach officers while filming inspired draft legislation. There was a risk of an officer being injured or a suspect escaping or ditching evidence, Kavanagh said.

The Rev. Jarrett Maupin, a Phoenix activist, has represented victims of excessive force by police. Some of the cases received more publicity because video captured by bystanders was posted online.

In one case, a Black couple had police officers point guns at them in front of their children in May 2019 after their young daughter took a doll from a store without their knowledge. They received a $475,000 settlement from the city.

Maupin believes the law is a tactic to help police avoid responsibility.

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

Bell said it’s unlikely that other states might follow suit to limit police recording directly given questions about constitutionality.

Media groups say the law raises serious constitutional issues

The new law doesn’t make exceptions for the press.

Media groups including The Associated Press said the measure raises serious constitutional issues. They signed onto a letter from the National Press Photographers Association, or NPPA, in opposition to the bill.

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