In Age of Transparency, Arizona Law Limits Police Shooting

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FILE – Phoenix police stand outside police headquarters May 30, 2020 in Phoenix, waiting for demonstrators to march in protest of the death of George Floyd. Arizona’s governor has signed into law a measure that makes it illegal to knowingly record videos of police officers within 2.5 meters (8ft) or closer without an officer’s permission, raising concerns among activists civil rights regarding transparency and accountability. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

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Arizona’s governor has signed a law that restricts how the public can film police at a time when there is growing pressure across the United States for greater law enforcement transparency.

Civil rights and media groups opposed the measure that Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed on Thursday. The law makes it illegal in Arizona to knowingly film police officers 8 feet (2.5 meters) or closer without an officer’s authorization.

Someone on private property with the owner’s consent can also be ordered to stop recording if a police officer finds they are interfering or the area is unsafe. The penalty is a misdemeanor that would likely result in a fine without jail time.

There needs to be a law that protects officers from people who “have either very poor judgment or sinister motives,” said Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, the bill’s sponsor.

“I am pleased that a very reasonable law that promotes the safety of police officers and those involved in police checks and bystanders has been enacted,” Kavanagh said on Friday. “This promotes everyone’s safety while allowing people to reasonably film police activities, as is their right.”

The move comes nearly a year after the US Department of Justice launched a broad investigation into Phoenix police forces to determine whether officers used excessive force and abused homeless people. It’s similar to other investigations opened in recent months in Minneapolis and Louisville.

The Phoenix Police Department, which oversees the nation’s fifth-largest city, has come under fire in recent years for its use of force, which disproportionately affects black and Native American residents.

The law left opponents like KM Bell, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, in disbelief.

Federal appeals courts have already ruled that police registration is “a clearly established right,” according to Bell.

The law will not work in real scenarios.

“We’re talking about people who are in public and a place where they have a right to be. We’re not talking, like somebody breaking into the (National Security Agency),” Bell said.

Kavanagh, who was a police officer for 20 years, changed the legislation to apply to certain types of police actions, including the questioning of suspects and encounters involving mental health or behavioral issues.

The law also provides exceptions for people who are the direct object of police interactions. They can film as long as they are not arrested or searched. A person who is in a car stopped by the police or who is being questioned can also film the encounter.

“These exceptions were based on input from all kinds of people, including the ACLU,” he said.

Rumors two years ago about anti-police groups deliberately approaching officers while shooting inspired Bill. There was a risk of an officer being injured or a suspect escaping or dropping evidence, Kavanagh said.

The Reverend Jarrett Maupin, an activist from Phoenix, has represented victims of excessive force by police. Some of the cases received more publicity because video captured by bystanders was posted online.

In one case, a black couple had police officers point guns at them in front of their children in May 2019 after their young daughter took a doll from a store without their knowledge. They received a $475,000 settlement from the city.

Maupin thinks the law is a tactic to help police avoid liability.

“Proximity is not a luxury in terms of documenting the actions of officers who engage in acts of brutality,” Maupin said. Sometimes victims and bystanders have no choice but to be in the proximity that the bill now prohibits.”

Bell said other states were unlikely to follow suit to limit police recording of directly asked questions about constitutionality.

The new law makes no exceptions for the press.

Media groups including the Associated Press said the measure raised serious constitutional issues. They signed a letter from the National Press Photographers Association, or NPPA, in opposition to the bill.

Defining uniform conditions such as “arbitrary distances” of 8 feet (2.5 meters) for filming police simply does not work, said Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA. It is also difficult to tell if someone is breaking the law if an officer approaches them within a few feet.

“What happens when you find yourself in situations like the ones we have seen in all the protests for the past two years, where you have multiple people with cameras? We are not just talking about journalists,” Osterreicher said, “And you have several policemen. Is everyone going to run with a ruler?”

Cellphone cameras have transformed policing, with one of the biggest examples being the 2020 murder of George Floyd, but Kavanagh said a law like Arizona’s wouldn’t have had an impact since the video in this case was taken from a greater distance.

Osterreicher argued that a police officer could invoke the law even if the person filming was far enough away.

But that didn’t happen in the Floyd case.

“Fortunately, these officers of all the bad things they did, the only thing they didn’t do was tell him to turn off the camera or try to interfere with his recording,” he said. said Osterreicher.