Arizona lawmaker introduces bill to criminalize filming police at close range

© Wolfgang Rattay
An Arizona state senator has proposed a law that would make it illegal to shoot close-up video of police activity. The senator justified the bill by saying that being filmed puts officers in danger by distracting them while they’re engaging suspects.

State Senator John Kavanagh would prevent citizens from filming within 20 feet of any “law enforcement activity,” even on public property. It would be a petty offense to violate the law, carrying a fine, but would become a misdemeanor if a person keeps filming after being told by an officer to stop. The bill will be considered in Monday’s session.

“Most cameras have great resolution where you don’t really lose anything when you’re 20 feet away,” he said, according to The New York Times. “At 20 feet you can pretty much pick up small objects."

Kavanagh, a Republican and former cop, argued that pedestrians filming law enforcement activity are a distraction.

“Having one or more persons suddenly walking up behind and around them with cameras is a distraction,” Kavanagh said, according to Talking Points Memo. “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."

However, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Dan Pochoda says the law would violate the First Amendment, pointing out that courts have previously struck down attempts to limit the ability of people to record law enforcement.

"There's now a clearly established right in the [9th US Circuit Court of Appeals] and most circuits in this country to observe and record the activity of law enforcement in public spaces," Pochoda said, according to Fox News. "Limiting that to when you're further away than 20 feet obviously infringes on that established First Amendment right. I know my camera doesn't work as well when I'm 21 feet away than when I'm 10 feet away, nor do I hear it as well."

He added that the law already allows officers to make people move back if they are interfering with police activity.

READ MORE: California moves to protect citizens’ right to record, photo police

Kavanagh, who teaches criminal justice at a community college, said that the First Amendment would not be an issue for the bill.

"The First Amendment is subject to reasonable restriction," he said. "And asking somebody to simply stay back 20 feet so you don't interject yourself into the scene and become a distraction to me seems reasonable."

The bill comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of police behavior concerning the deaths of unarmed individuals at the hands of officers. Many pedestrian videos of shootings of unarmed victims by officers have gone viral on the internet, leading to public outcry and nationwide protests.