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Arizona Bill Makes Filming Police Illegal

By: Tianhao Chen

On Wednesday, July 6th, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a law that prohibits filming police within eight feet. Arizona Representative John Kavanagh originally introduced the bill because he believes people shouldn’t film police officers less than eight feet away.

Mr. Kavanagh argued that people recording police activity from too close a distance would put themselves at risk and hinder the police from doing their job. He wrote in an op-ed for The Arizona Republic that “I can think of no reason why any responsible person would need to come closer than eight feet to a police officer engaged in a hostile or potentially hostile encounter.”

Under the law, people cannot record eight feet from police activity, which ranges from questioning suspects to arrests. If someone violates the law, it’s considered a misdemeanor and would face max penalties of a $500 fine and jail time of 30 days. However, if people film police while on private property, in a traffic stop, or contact with police, they are not subject to the law as long as their actions don’t disrupt the police. This exception does not apply for journalists.

When commenting about the law, Alan Chen, law professor at the University Denver, questioned how the law could be enforced. Something he brought up was what would happen if officers moved towards the people that had been recording over that eight-foot mark. He believed the law might affect how people record police activity, saying, “[i]t might deter them from actually recording or might make them back up even further than the eight feet that the law requires.”

Mr. Chen also expressed concern for the law violating the First Amendment. Media companies, such as the National Press Photographers Association, said that the bill violated free speech and free press. Although the Supreme Court hasn’t determined if recording police is a First Amendment right, federal appeals courts have ruled it to be a right protected by the Constitution.

This bill comes during a period where cell phone use to record police activity rose to prominence, such as 17-year-old Darnella Frazier when she recorded officer Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck. However, the A.C.L.U. tweeted out how the law would negatively impact “the use of the public’s most effective tool against police wrongdoing.”

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