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Arizona bill would limit witness videotaping of police activity

Posted at 8:23 PM, Jan 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 09:16:22-05

PHOENIX — An Arizona House bill would limit when the public could record video of police officers at work.

State Rep. John Kavanaugh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, is the sponsor of the bill. HB 2319 would make it illegal to video record police activity without the officer's permission unless the camera is at least 15 feet away.

There are exceptions if someone is inside an enclosed structure on private property.

"I was contacted by police officers in Tucson," Kavanagh said.

Kavanagh said the concern is that cop-watching groups are getting too close, and he is concerned about safety.

"The officer doesn't know if this is just a bystander taking a picture or if this is an accomplice or a friend of the person they are arresting and might attack them," Kavanagh said.

A first violation would be a petty offense. If the videotaping continued after an officer's verbal warning or it was a repeat offense, the violator could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Stacey Champion was issued a criminal citation for crossing a police line after she tried to intervene for a man who was homeless earlier this month. Phoenix police reversed course and declined to pursue charges after Champion's video of the incident was posted on Twitter.

Champion said if she had not been recording, "I would probably be in jail or would have gone to jail, most certainly."

Kavanagh told ABC15 investigator Melissa Blasius that he may make changes to the bill's wording.

"That was certainly not the intent of the bill to stop someone from doing it themselves, and I can easily take care of that," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the bill, saying people have a First Amendment right to record police activity as long as they are not interfering with law enforcement officers.

"Creating a gigantic 15-foot bubble in every circumstance is far too broad to address any concerns about interfering with the police which, by the way, is already illegal," said K.M. Bell with ACLU of Arizona.

Kavanagh, who proposed a similar law in 2016, said he wants to balance both filming rights and the safety of officers.