A new Arizona law makes it unlawful to record police from closer than eight feet away, and activists and civic groups are concerned about what might happen in future police confrontations if there is no quality video to demonstrate what happened.
On July 6, 2022, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2319, which passed along party lines and limits the public’s ability to film police activity.
“As an organization, we’ve pushed so hard for body-worn cameras, but we know they are turned off, and we know there have been cases where parts of the footage aren’t released,” said Kiana Sears, president of the East Valley NAACP in East Valley, Arizona. “We are completely upset; this is something we will not tolerate; we will fight it.” “We understand that this law has been approved, and we are here to oppose it,” Sears continued.
The law goes into effect on September 24 and is a class-three misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail if broken.
With some exceptions, the law forbids knowingly making a video recording of law enforcement activities within eight feet. The bill defines law enforcement activities as questioning a suspicious individual, arresting someone, or dealing with a situation involving an emotionally disturbed or unruly person.
Sears sees the law as a dangerous slippery slope, citing the effectiveness of video in other high-profile police encounters such as those involving George Floyd and Daunte Wright, as well as ongoing cases such as Patrick Lyoya’s, all of which resulted in officers facing charges and/or prison sentences.
“Without video, none of these heinous crimes would have been addressed,” Sears added.
According to The Hill, Republican State Rep. John Kavanaugh co-sponsored the bill and stated, “Police officers have no way of knowing whether the individual approaching is an innocent bystander or an accomplice of the person they’re detaining who would harm them.”
Bruce Franks Jr. is the spokesman for Mass Liberations Arizona, a non-profit dedicated to stopping mass incarceration and increasing police accountability. Franks did not agree with Kavanaugh’s justification for co-sponsoring the pro-police legislation.
“I wish I could use a more politically correct term, but that’s just dumb as hell.” “The justification for the law is we don’t know if they’re an accomplice or going to attack the cops,” said Franks.
John Fullinwieder is a co-founder of Moms Against Police Brutality, a national organization that brings together mothers who have lost children to police brutality and advocates for police accountability. Fullinwieder emphasizes the significance of spectator footage versus police video in punishing officers who participate in misconduct.
“I’ve been working on police issues in Dallas since the 1970s, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an indictment without cell phone video,” Fullinwieder said.
“Bystander video and police officer footage are not the same thing, unless the officers are required by law.” They have to carry a camera, turn it on or off, and sometimes say it malfunctions, but whether you ever get to see that footage is the function of the attorney general, the state, or the officer, you’re much more likely to see the bystander video for the public,” Fullinwieder stated.
Although activists and civic groups are concerned that if left unchecked, the new law would have far-reaching consequences that transcend beyond Arizona, there are some exceptions. The exceptions include a person recording police from a distance of less than eight feet if they are permitted to be on private property and police judge that the bystander recording their activity does not interfere with their official duties. Another exception allows the individual being sought by police to film the activities if the recording does not interfere with law enforcement activity. Finally, occupants of a vehicle can record during a traffic stop provided police deem they are not interfering with police activities.
According to K.M. Bell, an ACLU of Arizona staff attorney, the law is unlawful. According to a Washington Post analysis, more than 60% of Americans live in areas where federal appeals courts have recognized the First Amendment right to record police officers executing their jobs in public.
“You have a constitutional right to video officers and other government officials, as well as police officers conducting their jobs in a public location where you, the person recording, have a right to be,” Bell said.
Despite the exceptions, Sears believes the law still goes too far and puts too many people in danger of breaking the law.
“Now we have additional ways to become a criminal, so if you’re standing six feet away and you happen to see anything happening, you’re a criminal because you’re in the police space, potentially with a cell phone,” Sears explained.
According to Sears, the new law will be discussed during the 2022 NAACP National Conference in Atlantic City in July. According to the NAACP president, the organization must find measures to reduce the law’s impact and prevent other states from enacting similar legislation that disproportionately affects Black and brown communities.
“We will need a two-thirds majority to overturn this, but we have the will to mobilize and the collective power,” Sears said of alternatives to the contentious law.