If you’re recording the police in Arizona, officers might ask you to take a step back.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill into law Wednesday that bars people from recording police within 8 feet unless they are the subject of police contact or in the vehicle of someone who is the subject of police contact.

The bill originally prohibited recording within 15 feet until its sponsor, state Rep. John Kavanagh, amended it to eight feet, writing in an editorial in March that he listened to critics.

“I can think of no reason why any responsible person would need to come closer than 8 feet to a police officer engaged in a hostile or potentially hostile encounter,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Such an approach is unreasonable, unnecessary and unsafe, and should be made illegal.”

University of Utah officers now equipped with body cameras

Kavanagh said he sponsored the bill because of groups in Tucson that record officers as close as one to two feet, getting “dangerously close to potentially violent encounters.” Tucson passed an ordinance in 2020 that allows law enforcement to bar people from entering restricted areas and punishes violators with a fine of up to $750.

Kavanaugh, a Republican and former law enforcement officer in New York who now represents a district that includes Fountain Hills, told Arizona Family, “I have no problem with people videotaping police activity when they are a reasonable distance away.”

The law, SB 2319, goes into effect in September.

The National Press Photographers Association came out against the law, writing in a letter to Arizona lawmakers over their concern that the legislation “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 a public place.”

The letter from the National Press Photographers Association was sent on behalf of 24 organizations including the Associated Press, The Atlantic and Gannett Co., Inc., which owns newspapers including USA Today and the Arizona Republic.

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Staying a safe distance while filming police is always a good rule of thumb, according to Good & Common an online civil rights resource website. The site also encourages those filming police to announce their intention to take out their phone so officers don’t mistake them reaching for a weapon, and to not interfere with police activity or break any laws.

“As long as you are documenting things that are plainly visible in public places, the police cannot ask you to stop,” the site reads. “The police cannot demand to view your photos or videos without a warrant or delete your data under any circumstances, even if you are placed under arrest.”

Bystanders with smartphones have documented police misconduct in recent years that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, including most notably Darnella Frazier, the then-17 year old who filmed the murder of George Floyd. Some states have responded by requiring officers to wear cameras of their own.

At least seven states — Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Carolina — now require police to wear body cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and of those states, only South Carolina mandated body cameras before Floyd’s death.

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