Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, introduced Senate Bill 1054 this week, which would make it a crime for someone within 20 feet of an officer to knowingly take video of any law enforcement activity without the officer’s permission.
The new bill would also allow officers to stop someone from recording law enforcement activity, even on their own property, if the officers deem that the filming interferes with police business or creates an unsafe circumstance. A Texas lawmaker unsuccessfully introduced similar legislation earlier this year.
Kavanagh said the rising rate of cellphones with video capability has created new concerns that must be addressed. He said his bill recognizes an individual’s right to record law enforcement, but puts “reasonable restraints” on it. He said the 20-foot limit is still close enough for someone to record.
“Certainly people have a right to do that under the First Amendment, if there is no interference,” he said. “But people get very close with the cameras and even lose track of where they are standing. When they get too close, they distract the police officer … and the individual taping may become hurt if the arrest becomes violent. It seems reasonable to create a safety buffer zone around these activities.”
The bill comes at a time of heightened police scrutiny following the highest police shooting count in 20 years, in 2015. With the amount of police misconduct that has found its way into a court room solely due to video captured by the very means this bill would restrict, it causes one to wonder the true intention of Bill 1054. It would seem the nation could only benefit from more independent media. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona launched Mobile Justice AZ, a free smart phone app that allows individuals to automatically send videos of law enforcement activity to the local ACLU if it appears someone’s rights have been violated.
First Amendment attorney Dan Barr said he doesn’t see the need for such legislation and called the bill an,
“unconstitutional solution to a nonexistent problem”
“You’ve had a whole slew of courts hold that people have a First Amendment right to take video of the police in public,” he said. “If this bill ever became law, it would be struck down in a nanosecond.”
“State law already gives police the power to arrest people who interfere with them,” Barr said. “So the question then becomes, what is the whole point of this bill? It makes as much sense as making it a crime to chew gum or comb your hair or suck a lollipop within 20 feet of an officer. They are not even logically connected.”
Barr said interfering would be more invasive, for instance, yelling at an officer while he or she is questioning someone, or physically getting in their way.
“Holding up a video camera is not interfering,” he said. “It’s irrational before you even get to the constitutional question.”
Kavanagh said the current law deals with individuals who step between an officer and a suspect.
“This new technology has created this new problem, where it’s a distraction that can be dangerous to the officer,” he said. “The idea is to balance the right to videotape with the safety concerns of everybody.”
The new bill would make no exception for media, and will make it a petty offense, which is usually punishable by a fine. The officer would have the choice to charge an individual with a misdemeanor if they refuse to stop recording.