New AZ bill would crack down on filming police

Posted at 4:34 PM, Jan 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-08 12:14:16-05

An Arizona lawmaker wants to bar the public from videotaping law enforcement officers from close-range, saying groups that rush in to film police interactions are routinely endangering officers by distracting them while they're engaged with suspects.

Republican state Sen. John Kavanagh's bill would bar videotaping police from 20 feet or closer. The proposed legislation filed for consideration in the session that begins Monday would make it a petty offense to violate the law, or a misdemeanor if the person keeps taping after being warned or has a previous conviction.

Kavanagh said Thursday that Senate Bill 1064 is needed to keep police from being endangered while investigating crimes.  

“The law has to keep up with technology,” said Kavanagh.  

Coming from a police background himself, Kavanagh says his bill is about keeping police and the public safe, by avoiding distractions. 

“When you're trying to cuff somebody who's may be violent against you, the last thing you need, is to have to turn away and look at somebody else,” said Kavanagh.

“People have a first amendment right to record police activity in public,” said ACLU policy director Will Gaona. “Any limitation to that is constitutionally questionable.”

The ACLU actually has its own app, encouraging people to record and report issues with police.

“It seems arbitrary to say that once you cross within 20 feet, you're automatically interfering with police activity, just because you have a camera in your hand,” said Gaona.

Kavanagh says he fears people who are suspicious of the police will automatically think this bill aims to crack down on their rights. 

“When in reality, this bill recognizes their right to film, it just creates a safety perimeter,” said Kavanagh. 

The proposal is the latest to emerge in legislatures across the nation as they try to grapple with increased scrutiny of officers after shootings. Various pieces of police shooting legislation were considered last year, including proposals requiring police to wear body cameras or mandating that shooting investigations be done by outside agencies.

Arizona's Legislature passed a GOP-championed law last year that would have kept the names of officers involved in shootings secret for two months to protect their safety. That law was vetoed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey amid pressure from police chiefs who told him that an arbitrary hold on releasing the names of officers would limit their ability to manage complex community-police relations.