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Bill introduced in Arizona to limit how citizens film law enforcement

The bill’s sponsor said it’s to help protect police officers and the public, while others are concerned there are constitutional issues involved

ARIZONA, USA — A bill introduced into the state legislature is looking to limit when and where people can record law enforcement officers in Arizona.

What the bill says 

House Bill 2319 is looking to put limits on how far away people need to be to record law enforcement activity.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Representative John Kavanagh, said he introduced it after concerns he got from officers in Tucson about people they’ve encountered at scenes.

“While the officers are taking police action, such as arresting people, they come right up behind the officer within feet to do the filming,” Kavanagh said.

Kavanagh said people filming close to officers can be interfering with police work.

The bill, if passed, said people would need the permission of the law enforcement officer to record if they’re within 15 feet outside and at a closer distance inside.

“What is a safe distance that citizens can videotape police from and still get all the action without causing distraction and potential injury to both the officer and filmer alike,” Kavanagh said.

Constitutionality questions

Constitutional lawyer Dan Barr said there’s already a law in Arizona that says people can’t interfere with law enforcement doing their job.

“Whether you’re holding your camera up or not doesn’t make any difference if you’re physically interfering with an arrest or not or anything else that they do,” Barr said.

In addition, Barr said the courts have continually held that people have a right to film law enforcement in public.

Barr believes the bill is a “solution in search of a problem.”

“If you’re a police officer and you don’t want to be videoed it gives them another arrow in their quiver to say, ‘Back off', ‘Move away’, ‘Turn off the camera’,” Barr said.

Kavanagh said he’s having legislative attorneys review the bill and court cases around the country and is willing to modify the bill to keep it constitutional.

Kavanagh also said he is planning to add an amendment that those directly involved with the law enforcement action can record.

“I want to legally protect police officers and those who will film them,” Kavanagh said.

Cell phone video in recent cases

Kavanagh said with most law enforcement officers in Arizona wearing body cameras, there will be other videos, besides cell phone footage, in those instances.

Throughout Arizona and the country, cell phone video has both captured the good works of law enforcement officers, and others that have drawn scrutiny.

Barr notes, it was cell phone video that captured George Floyd’s death.

“That video was crucial to the conviction of the officer who murdered George Floyd,” Barr said. 

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