Republican State Representative John Kavanagh, who sponsored the bill, wrote in an op-ed in the Republic of Arizona that its purpose is to protect against distraction and potential harm, especially when police are involved in violent encounters. He wrote that police told him that groups “hostile” to officers followed them and filmed one to two feet behind them, which Kavanagh called “a dangerous practice that could end in tragedy”.
“I can’t think of any reason why a responsible person should get closer than 6 feet to a police officer involved in a hostile or potentially hostile encounter. Such an approach is unreasonable, unnecessary and unsafe and should be made illegal,” Kavanagh wrote in the opinion.
Are the police trying to stop you from recording that cell phone video? Check your First Amendment rights.
In an era when cell phone cameras have proven to play a role in capturing police encounters and holding law enforcement officers accountable, critics say the law limits people’s right to record in public places.
“A blanket restriction is a violation of the First Amendment,” Stephen D. Solomon, director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, which teaches First Amendment law, told The Washington Post.
More than 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in states — including Arizona — where federal appeals courts have recognized the First Amendment’s right to include police officers performing their duties in public, according to a Citizen’s Guide to Police Inclusion. NYU’s First Amendment Watch.
Solomon, editor of the online news site, said it is not an absolute right. There are some restrictions, such as reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, that courts can impose to prevent people from meddling with the police. But there is no set distance recognized by federal courts, as it depends on the situation, he said.
“Who says 8 feet is the right distance? It could be under some circumstances, but not in other circumstances,” he said, wondering how such a law would be enforced during a street demonstration where crowds of people with cell phones are surrounded by law enforcement officers.
Solomon said the new law will have a “horrifying effect”.
“If you know the limit is 2 meters, you might stay 15 or 20 meters away, or you might not record anything at all because you’re afraid the police will take you into custody,” he said.
You have the right to film the police. Here’s how to do it effectively and safely.
The law will allow some exceptions to the 8-foot rule, with caveats. For example, the bill states that when a police encounter takes place in an enclosed area on private property, a person authorized to be there may record closer than 6 feet – “unless a law enforcement officer determines that the person is interfering with law enforcement activity” or the bill defines “law enforcement activity” as an officer interrogating a suspicious person, an officer making an arrest, or an officer handling a situation involving “an emotionally disturbed or disorderly person.”
In addition, a person being questioned may record within 2 meters of the law enforcement officer and, during a traffic stop, the vehicle’s occupants may also record the encounter — as long as no one is interfering in “lawful police actions,” such as searching, handcuffing, or perform a sobriety test in the field.
The law will take effect in September.