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Arizona governor signs bill to ban public from videotaping police within 8 feet

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a controversial bill this week that prohibits people from recording a police officer within 8 feet.

The governor and the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. John Kavanagh, claim it will protect law enforcement officers and keep them focused on their jobs. Opponents claim it violates the First Amendment, is intentionally vague, and gives police too much discretion.

Bystander videos of police have been crucial in exposing police misconduct, including the case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

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Chauvin was sentenced by a federal judge on Thursday to 21 years in prison for violating George Floyd’s civil rights when he knelt on his neck for more than 9 minutes with both Floyd and bystanders telling him he couldn’t breathe. The incident was caught on camera by multiple people on the scene and used by prosecutors in both the state and federal cases against Chauvin, as well as the officers who were with him.

Kavanagh, a former police officer, said he has no problem with people filming law enforcement at a distance but argues that when they come too close, it can escalate a situation or distract the officer.

“I have no problem with people videotaping police activity, when they’re a reasonable distance away,” he told CBS 5 in Phoenix. “This bill simply says you’re free to photograph police officers, but if it’s a potentially dangerous situation, you simply have to stay back 8 feet. It’s a very reasonable bill, and only unreasonable people walk right into the middle of an arrest encounter. It’s dangerous for everybody.”

Constitutional attorney Dan Barr disagrees and claims the bill infringes on the public’s rights.

“Members of the public have a First Amendment right to video police in public places, and what this tries to do is discourage people from doing that,” he said. “You are punishing people for exercising their First Amendment right, when they are not actually interfering with police.”

Exceptions to the 8-feet rule were made for people at the center of an interaction with police, anyone standing in an enclosed structure on private property where an incident was taking place, and during traffic stops, provided the person does not interfere with police actions.

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Opposition to the new law, which goes into effect on Sept. 24, triggered many media organizations to weigh in during the legislative process.

The National Press Photographers Association signed a letter written by Mickey Osterreicher, NPPA’s general counsel, saying that the bill “violates not only the free speech and press clauses of the First Amendment, but also runs counter to the ‘clearly established right’ to photograph and record police officers performing their official duties in public places.”

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