Smartphone footage is now a central pillar of US police accountability activism. It brought nationwide attention to the death of George Floyd, for instance, and was crucial to convicting Derek Chauvin of murder.
But in the state of Arizona, starting in September, a new law will go into effect prohibiting the filming of police officers from within eight feet.
The law makes some exceptions for occupants of vehicles and those in enclosed structures on private property. They are permitted to film as long as they are not being arrested or searched. Someone who is in a car stopped by police or is being questioned is also allowed to record the interaction. Unless, however, an officer determines that they’re interfering with law enforcement activity or the area is deemed unsafe for civilians.
Those found to be in violation of HB 2319 after being asked to stop could earn “a class 3 misdemeanor, which comes with a minimum of 30 days in jail,”
Supporters of the bill, including the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. John Kavanagh believe the bill will help to keep officers safe from harm. In an interview with Arizona PBS, Kavanagh stated that “Nobody walks up to a cop when he is questioning a suspicious person or arresting somebody and stands one or two feet away. Common sense says you’re asking for trouble.”
Free speech advocates have condemned the bill as unconstitutional, vague and giving police disproportionate discretion to enforce. They argue that having laws like this will make it harder for citizens to hold the police accountable for misconduct.
“Members of the public have a first amendment right to video police in public places and what this tries to do is discourage people from doing that,” constitutional attorney Dan Barr
The National Press Photography Association was one of several associations and media outlets that
“We are extremely concerned that this language violates not only the free speech and press clauses of the First Amendment,” the open letter said, “but also runs counter to the ‘clearly established right’ to photograph and record police officers performing their official duties in a public place.”