Politician Says Filming Cops Should Be Illegal Within 20′ if There’s No Permission


Jamie Ross | Courthouse News Service

PHOENIX (CN) – Recording police officers without their permission or from closer than 20 feet will be illegal in Arizona if a Republican state senator’s bill becomes law.

Senate Bill 1054 , by state Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Scottsdale, would make offense a misdemeanor if the offender continues the recording after a verbal warning or has previously been convicted of violating the law.

The bill specifies that it is “unlawful for a person to knowingly make a video recording of law enforcement activity, including the handling of an emotionally disturbed person, if the person making the video recording does not have the permission of a law enforcement officer and is within 20 feet of where the law enforcement activity is occurring.”

If the incident occurs in a private residence, the recorder must film from an “adjacent room or area” unless the officer finds that person is interfering “or that it is not safe to be in the area and orders the person to stop recording or to leave the area.”

Will Gaona, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told Courthouse News that Kavanagh’s bill not only poses constitutional questions, but is “just a bad idea.”

“People have a First Amendment right to record law enforcement actions that take place in the public,” Gaona said. “You start to restrict people’s ability to do so, and you start to restrict their right.”

The ACLU launched a phone app in November – Mobile Justice – to allow people to record law enforcement activity and submit videos for review by the ACLU for civil rights violations.

“We put out the app to encourage people to record the police in situations they think are concerning,” Gaona said. “In what we’ve received thus far from the app, there’s no indication that any of the recordings have interfered with police activity.”

Kavanagh told U.S. News & World Report he was inspired to sponsor the bill from his experience as a Port Authority officer in New York.

At John F. Kennedy International Airport in the 1970s, Kavanagh said, he found syringes in a jewelry case carried by a band mate of Wilson Pickett.

Kavanagh said he had placed the band member against the wall, when Pickett approached him and asked, “Is this going to take long?”

The question caused enough of a distraction to allow the band mate to throw a package of heroin behind a television while Kavanagh looked the other way, he said.

Kavanagh did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

His bill comes after a number of controversial police actions were caught on camera in the past two years.

In July 2014, a bystander used his phone to film the death of Eric Garner after New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Garner in a chokehold. Pantaleo was not indicted for his actions.

An officer was also caught in April 2015 on camera in the North Charleston, S.C. shooting of Walter Scott. Scott was shot five times in the back as he fled unarmed from the officer, who has been charged in Scott’s murder and faces an October trial date.

Video recording of the killing of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, and officers’ inaccurate descriptions of the incident, cost the police commissioner there his job.

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