Arizona law bans civilians from recording police within 8 feet
By: Jonathan Shan
A new Arizona law that prohibits recording police within eight feet raises concerns about freedom of speech since those who violate this law will be jailed and fined.
This law, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, will go into effect in September. Many groups and organizations involved in media and civil rights have criticized this law. Nonetheless, State Representative John Kavanagh has expressed his support for the law by arguing it was to keep people from getting too close to dangerous situations and interfering with the police.
The law dictates it is illegal for people to record law enforcement officers if they know there is police activity happening or if police inform them that there is police activity. If they don’t comply, the police can arrest them for being “suspicious” and may serve up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
However, there are exceptions to this law for those being searched at their homes, within their own places, and for people being pulled over. However, this rule may not necessarily apply to people who aren’t involved in the confrontation. Journalists also may not be able to record.
Alan Chen, a law professor at the University of Denver, has raised some questions about the law’s enforcement and unique cases. For instance, I wondered how people are expected to respond if an officer moves toward them even though they were recording from more than eight feet away. “It might deter them from recording or might make them back up even further than the eight feet that the law requires,” Mr. Chen said. “There’s certainly some First Amendment concerns here.”
The First Amendment is the freedom of speech. This law creates unnecessary restrictions against citizens and limits what people can do with devices around police, therefore violating the First Amendment. "Giving [police] the authority to tell someone to stop recording is a violation of the First Amendment," stated Mickey Osterreicher. Unfortunately, the citizens of Arizona are not protected by the First Amendment.
Mr. Chen expects the Supreme Court to recognize it as an “important tool for holding police accountable for misconduct.” Many times, recordings of hostile police officers have been used to help the victims. Although it may not have resulted in the officer getting charged, it has saved many lives against prison time.
Previous recordings by civilians have, in some instances, aided in convicting officers of police abuse and misconduct. On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, an African-American man, was murdered when a white officer named Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck while handcuffing him. Darnella Frazier, a passerby, caught the murder on video, which was later used as evidence in court.
Mr. Kavanagh, who issued this law, considered the criticism and decided to decrease the filming distance from 15 feet to 8 feet. He says, “I can think of no reason why any responsible person would need to come closer than eight feet to a police officer engaged in a hostile or potentially hostile encounter. Such an approach is unreasonable, unnecessary, and unsafe, and should be made illegal.”
The A.C.L.U. of Arizona wrote on Twitter that the new law would make it more difficult for police to be held accountable for immoral doings and hinder using phones to put officers on tape.