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Arizona bans video recording cops within 8 feet of police activity

Police tape. (Dreamstime/TNS)
July 11, 2022

A new Arizona law bans people from recording police activity within proximity of eight feet. Civil rights groups and media organizations have criticized the move over transparency concerns related to law enforcement.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB2319 the law on Wednesday, which makes it “unlawful for a person to knowingly make a video recording of law enforcement activity if the person making the video recording is within eight feet of where the person knows or reasonably should know that law enforcement activity is occurring.”

A violation of the new law is a misdemeanor offense and includes a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and fines up to $500. The law includes exceptions for people on private property or in a car that’s been stopped by police. There are no exceptions for journalists.

The law is set to go into effect in September.

State Representative John Kavanagh, who sponsored the bill, asserted that the measure is about keeping people safe.

“Getting very close to police officers in tense situations is a dangerous practice that can end in tragedy,” Kavanagh wrote in an op-ed published in AZ Central.

“Police officers have no way of knowing whether the person approaching is an innocent bystander or an accomplice of the person they’re arresting who might assault them. Consequently, officers become distracted and while turning away from the subject of the encounter, the officers could be assaulted by that subject or that subject could discard evidence or even escape,” he continued.

“I recognize the constitutional right of people to videotape police officers performing their duties. However, the United States Supreme Court has also ruled that this right is subject to reasonable time, place and manner limitations.”

He added that modern technology allows “minute details” to be recorded from greater distances, arguing that “a video taken from 8 feet away probably takes in the entire scene, providing more information and greater context.”

“It is probably a better video from an evidentiary perspective,” he wrote. “I can think of no reason why any responsible person would need to come closer than 8 feet to a police officer engaged in a hostile or potentially hostile encounter. Such an approach is unreasonable, unnecessary and unsafe, and should be made illegal.”

Alen Chen, a University of Denver law professor, said the measure raises multiple concerns, including what a person should do if a police officer moves toward him while he’s recording from eight feet away.

“It might deter them from actually recording or might make them back up even further than the eight feet that the law requires,” Chen said, according to the New York Times. “There’s certainly some First Amendment concerns here.”