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Kavanagh bill would ban videos within 20 feet of a police officer

Police officer wathcing

A state lawmaker wants to make criminals out of some people who take videos of cops questioning or arresting someone.

The proposal by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would bar shooting video within 20 feet of any “law enforcement activity” unless the officer first gave permission. A first offense would carry a $300 fine, with subsequent violations potentially sending someone to jail for up to six months.

Daniel Pochoda with the American Civil Liberties Union says SB1054 is a violation of First Amendment rights. And attorney Daniel Barr who handles media issues questioned the need for such a restriction.

But Kavanagh, a retired police officer, insisted he’s not trying to cloak law enforcement activity from public view.

Rep. John Kavanagh (File Photo)

Sen. John Kavanagh (File Photo)

He said people are free to stand 21 feet away. And he rejected contentions that someone standing that far back might not be able to record important details, like whether someone was reaching for a gun or a cell phone.

“Most cameras have great resolution where you don’t really lose anything when you’re 20 feet away,” Kavanagh argued. “At 20 feet you can pretty much pick up small objects.”

What’s behind the measure, he said, is the safety of police officers who may be doing anything from questioning a suspicious person to making an arrest.

“Having one or more persons suddenly walking up behind and around them with cameras is a distraction,” Kavanagh said.

“The officer doesn’t know if this is somebody who’s a friend of the individual he’s doing law enforcement action against or what,” he continued. “But it distracts the officer which creates a safety problem for the officer.”

“So we’re going to make it a crime?” Barr responded.

“If you’re actually interfering with them in some way, interfering with his movement or something like that, I can see that you can be sanctioned for that,” he continued, saying there already are laws on the books to cover that situation. “Whether you’re filming him or not has nothing to do with it.

Kavanagh disagreed, insisting that those trying to get videos are a special problem.

“They aren’t just standing or walking by,” he said.

“With video, you stand near and you point and you change your perspective to get a better shot,” Kavanagh continued. “It’s a much more intimate interaction than an ordinary citizen watching the cops do something.”

Pochoda said the whole question of what might distract a police officer ignores the underlying issue.

“There is a clearly established First Amendment right for citizens — or anyone, you don’t have to be a citizen — to record public activities of law enforcement,” he said. “You don’t have to be a professional journalist to possess this First Amendment right.”

He acknowledged that courts have allowed infringements on that right, but only if there is a “demonstrable need.”

“You can’t just have this automatic arbitrary number,” Pochoda said, referring to that 20-foot video-free zone. He said those who interfere with police can always be detained.

“There’s nothing magic about 20 feet, that you’ll always be interfering if you’re less than 20 feet and never if you’re past 20 feet,” Pochoda said.

He also said that, as crafted, the measure could totally obliterate the right of individuals to videotape police activity if the only way to record it is to be within 20 feet, such as an arrest in an alley.

Barr said there’s another particular flaw in the proposal.

As written, it would make a criminal out of those who take out a cell phone to videotape their own questioning by police as, by definition, they would be within 20 feet of what’s happening.

Kavanagh, however, doesn’t see that as a problem, saying there’s no inherent right to videotape your own interaction, particularly if that’s an arrest.

“If you’re the subject of a law enforcement activity, you’ve got to submit to the authority of the police officer, put your hands on the car, keep your hands out of your pocket,” he said. “You don’t pretend that the cop’s not there so you can do whatever you want.”

But Kavanagh conceded that an absolute ban on taping one’s own interaction with police might not be justified if an officer is simply asking questions. He said it might be necessary to amend his legislation when it comes up for a hearing.

16 comments

  1. To me, it looks as if the primary intent of this provision is to prohibit filming your own interface with police, even though they are allowed to film you. Secondarily, the intent appears to me to allow for police harboring in “blind spots” that can’t be filmed. Drag the subject of an interview into a store entrance or alleyway, and now nobody can film without running the risk of being shot by the police.

  2. John, your absolutely correct. If someone hasn’t walked in a Police Ifficers shoes then they wouldn’t know how much of a distraction it is to an Officer to interfere using a video. I’ve seen it on TV, they should be arrested, not fined . Good job John and I’m all for it. There is too much freedom and too much Political Correctness out there, it’s ruining our beloved nation and making Our LEO’s powerless.

  3. “The First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest.” Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F. 3d 1332 (11th Federal Circuit 2000).

    It is settled law that a “loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 373 (1976) (plurality).

    It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” First Nat’l Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978); see also Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969) (“It is . . . well established that the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas.”). An important corollary to this interest in protecting the stock of public information is that “[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by means within the law.’” Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 11 (1978) (quoting Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 681-82 (1972)). The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218 (1966).

    “no Act of Congress can authorize a violation of the Constitution.” Almeida-Sanchez, supra, at 272. [422 U.S. 873, 878] – See more at: http://www.roadblock.org/cases/brignoni#sthash.3tTo8CgQ.dpuf

    Need I go on?

  4. Officer Arizona Safety: Sir, I need to ask you some questions.
    Me: Sure officer, please stand back 20 feet so I can record you.

  5. @Ken McCabe, too much freedom is ruining our nation?! Freedom is what this nation is about! It’s the only nation in the history of the world founded on the principle of individual liberty, the very cornerstone of our society. What’s ruining our nation is people that think they get to decide how much freedom other people get. Thank God we have a Constitution that helps us protect ourselves from your special kind of insanity.

  6. Sorry guy, but you can’t violate the Constitution in order to try to protect cops from having their illegal activities recorded.

  7. Just how many resources is Arizona willing to waste on stupid laws that will not hold up to the Supreme Court? This has been tried in several states and been struck down. If you don’t want to be in the spotlight for the behaviour of your police force, give them better training and up you standards all the way around. This will never make it and you will continue to be a laughing stock to the rest of the country. Indiana tried to pull this well as Illinois, both states lost and looked like a bunch of boobs.

  8. Ah, Arizona… Sometimes I miss living there. Other times, I tell people I came from a different state.

  9. If Ken McCabe can’t take the heat he needs to get out of the kitchen. Let me tell you something buddy, there is no shortage of people willing to be a cop. There are plenty who are willing to do the job without trampling the rights of the citizens of the United States of America. I suggest you move to Africa, Russia, or better yet, Ukraine.


  10. What’s behind the measure, he said, is the safety of police officers who may be doing anything from questioning a suspicious person to making an arrest.

    “Having one or more persons suddenly walking up behind and around them with cameras is a distraction,” Kavanagh said.

    If that’s the concern, then why not make the regulation propose that it’s illegal to walk up behind a police officer unless you clearly announce yourself?

    It’s almost as if Kavanagh’s real goal is top stop people from filming police and hold them accountable for their actions. Nah, that couldn’t be it, could it?

  11. I can’t believe we keep electing this guy. Much of what he is involved in tramples constitutional rights or basic human dignity. No wonder we continue to be laughed at by the rest of the county.

  12. This is an OUTRAGEOUS piece of legislation and clearly illustrates the mindset of Kavanagh–that the citizens have no real rights and are only there for the government/state apparatus to feed off of. Definitely time to tell Senator Kavanagh bye bye. The “safety” of police employees (who willingly agreed to take an inherently dangerous job to begin with) definitely does not supercede the rights of the individual, especially as far flung as this “safety” basis is. Law enforcement has a duty to serve the people, not its own individual personal interests such as protecting itself from the consequences of murdering, pillaging and corruption while under the cloak of state duty. As such, police behavior should be transparent to the whole community it serves. It is my great hope all in Arizona work overtime to remove this offensive tyrant from his duties. His sense of obligation to his constituents is perverse and Kavanagh needs to be dealt with on election day.

  13. This isn’t about the right to video police, it’s about officer safety. As a former deputy sheriff I think everyone should video police actions, and officers should support this, as long as you don’t interfere.
    This bill is about officer safety. If an officer is dealing with a suspect, they don’t need someone close putting both the officer and the person in a potentially dangerous situation if things go bad.

  14. You use the word “need” in the sense of “want”, so let’s re-write your statement.

    “If an officer is dealing with a suspect, they don’t want someone close….”

    What they want or don’t want is immaterial. An officer signs up for a certain amount of risk when they take the job. As Jamelle Bouie recently wrote in Slate,

    “Police, after all, are just ordinary people. They want to go home to their friends, partners, and children. Blue lives matter, goes the mantra, police have a right to go home safely. This is true, but only to an extent. Part of policing is risk. Not just the inevitable risk of the unknown, but voluntary risk. We ask police to “serve and protect” the broad public, which—at times—means accepting risk when necessary to defuse dangerous situations and protect lives, innocent or otherwise. It’s why we give them weapons and the authority to use them; why we compensate them with decent salaries and generous pensions; why we hold them in high esteem and why we give them wide berth in procedure and practice.

    What we see with Tamir Rice—and what we’ve seen in shootings across the country—is what happens when the officer’s safety supercedes the obligation to accept risk. If “going home” is what matters—and risk is unacceptable—then the instant use of lethal force makes sense. It’s the only thing that guarantees complete safety from harm.

    It’s also antithetical to the call to “serve and protect.” But it’s the new norm.”

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