New Arizona Law Makes Photographing Police Up Close Illegal

Police In Riot Gear

A new Arizona law will soon make it illegal for bystanders to record police activity within eight feet. Civil rights activists and national press photographers have condemned the act as a violation of free speech.

The controversial law restricting the recording of police was signed into law on Wednesday by the Republican Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey.

The new law, which goes into effect on September 24, prohibits anyone within eight feet of law enforcement officers from recording police activity. Violators will face a misdemeanor charge and up to thirty days in jail, though only after ignoring a verbal warning and continuing to record anyway.

The law makes some exceptions for occupants of vehicles and those in enclosed structures on private property where law enforcement activity is occurring. They are permitted to film as long as they are not being arrested or searched. Someone who is in a car, stopped by police, or is being questioned, is also allowed to record the interaction. Unless, however, an officer determines that they’re interfering with law enforcement activity or the area is deemed unsafe for civilians.

The bill was sponsored by Arizona State Representative, and former police officer, John Kavanagh, who writes in an op-ed for USA Today that the new law is intended to protect law enforcement officers from harm while conducting their job.

But first amendment advocates have voiced their opposition to the bill, stating it was unconstitutional at its core, lacked specificity, and granted police disproportionate discretion to enforce. Various news organizations signed letters from the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) opposing the bill.

Bystanders’ videos of police have become increasingly common, and, at times, instrumental in activism that exposes police misconduct. Smartphone camera footage was instrumental in the case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was filmed killing George Floyd and ultimately convicted for his murder.

In a statement to Insider, The NPPA says they are “extremely concerned that the new law violates not only the free speech and press clauses of the First Amendment, but also runs counter to the ‘clearly established right’ to photograph and record police officers performing their official duties in a public place cited by all the odd-numbered US Circuit Courts of Appeal including the Ninth Circuit.”

“While such rights are not absolute, we believe that requiring the ‘permission of a law enforcement officer’ and setting a minimum and arbitrary distance of eight feet in between a law enforcement officer and the person recording, would not survive a constitutional challenge and is completely unworkable in situations’ like protests and demonstrations,” adds the association.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.