Another Lawmaker Is Trying To Create A Photography-Free Zone For Police Officers

from the the-21-foot-rule-of-police-misconduct dept

A former cop is trying to legislate some First Amendment-violating protection for his blue-clad brothers. Everyone’s carrying a camera these days and Arizona Senator John Kavanaugh wants them to be as far away as possible from police officers performing their public duties. Ken White (aka Popehat) summarizes the proposed legislation for FaultLines.

The proposed legislation makes it illegal to record cops in action.


If it’s on private property where you have a right to be — say, your house — you can record the cop from the next room, unless of course the cop says you can’t.


Taking video from 19 feet away is a petty offense, unless the cop tells you to piss off, at which point it becomes a misdemeanor if you don’t.

Having learned nothing from Texas legislator Jason Villalba’s similar attempt to create a footage-free buffer zone for police work, Kavanaugh is headed down the same path towards ridicule and disappointment. The only difference is that Arizona citizens would be “allowed” five feet closer (20′, rather than 25′) to their public servants.

Kavanaugh, as White points out, is a former police officer. This explains his desire to take the “protection” out of “protected speech” and hand it over to law enforcement. Officers will then be free to guesstimate the appropriate distance for filming and enforce the new law accordingly.

Kavanaugh’s latest effort follows his apoplectic defense of a bill that would shield officers involved in shootings from any sort of public disclosure for at least 60 days. Last year, he claimed the US was full of “lunatics and zealots” seeking to “assassinate” police officers, thus necessitating the conversion of transparency and accountability into an opaque shield for excessive force and misconduct.

The legislator’s rationale for his boneheaded, unconstitutional legislation traces all the way back to his days as a cop, when an arrest didn’t go exactly as planned.

Senator Kavanaugh explained to U.S. News and World Report that this is all Wilson Pickett’s fault.

“In the early 1970s, Kavanagh says, he arrested a bandmate of the popular “Mustang Sally” singer at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He had the man against a wall after finding syringes in a clam-shell jewelry case when Pickett approached and politely asked, “Is this gonna take long?” he recalls.

The next day, the ex-Port Authority cop says, he was told the arrestee tossed a package of heroin behind a television as he looked away.”

As I recall Yosemite Sam used to fall for that “hey look over there” routine a fair amount as well.

Yet Senator Kavanagh didn’t offer a bill prohibiting musicians, or any other class of people, from approaching an officer in the course of a detention or arrest. He aimed at folks recording cops.

The omnipresence of cameras is obviously disconcerting for officers who prefer to do their work either unobserved or witnessed solely by unreliable eyeballs. Existing laws can be used to arrest those who truly interfere with police business, but someone roaming the periphery with an iPhone is only a distraction if the officer allows it to be a distraction. Giving them the power to arrest photographers only ensures cops will be more distracted than ever. And while they’re approaching the person standing 15 feet away recording the arrest, the suspect will have even more opportunities to discard evidence than the guy in the Wilson Pickett case ever did. Of course, these “distracted” arrests — accompanied by descriptions of the evidence that got away — will be offered up as justification for Kavanaugh’s First Amendment-trampling.

In both of these cases where law enforcement sympathy has trumped logic during the bill-crafting process, no one seems to have taken into account the other photography equipment everyone seems to have: CCTV. In recent high-profile shootings (Laquan McDonald, Fridoon Nehad), this technology has been the silent, unseen witness that has produced evidence that contradicts police reports. How does the 20-foot rule work in these situations? Arguably, a person does control the camera, even if only to collect footage passively. Would Kavanaugh have these cameras disabled or their footage destroyed if they “intrude” on the crime scene?

No matter how it’s spun, this is nothing more than a former cop trying to delay the inevitable.

Why do legislators like Kavanagh keep trying this nonsense? They do so because their constituency is cops, and people who think that cops should be obeyed without question. And cops are nervous. Disturbing videotapes of police misconduct are no longer a rare exception, as in the Rodney King era. With a smartphone-obsessed populace, they’re an almost daily occurrence.

At this point, it can’t be stopped. It can’t even be contained. A roaming 20-foot “halo” around cops won’t keep their misdeeds from being recorded. And it’s highly unlikely a judge would be sympathetic to the destruction of recorded footage as the result of misdemeanor arrest. As White points out, it’s not as though the punishment of bad cops has risen in correlation to the amount of available footage. It’s still the exception for an officer to be severely punished, rather than the rule. But that too will change and that’s what cops — and Kavanaugh — are afraid of.

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Comments on “Another Lawmaker Is Trying To Create A Photography-Free Zone For Police Officers”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Because its really hard for us to keep lying to you when there is evidence of the wrong doing everyone can see.
We have to protect these hard working large voting blocks who will withhold their support if we don’t give them special rights to continue their reign of terror of their fiefdoms.
If we don’t protect the cops, who will look the other way when we are caught with a dead hooker or a live boy?

Todd Shore (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What happened? Legislative bodies created bad laws that the citizenry did not agree with. In the last half century for instance, the 55 MPH speed limit taught the general population that police were the enemy.

Way before that, police were used to break unions and enforce the have for those that already had against the have nots.

It all started in 1847 in the US.

If we are to have a discussion on how to fix things then we need to roll back the frame of reference for the discussion concerning policing to before 1847 when police forces were put in place and put everything on the table.

Anonymous Coward says:

What is it with these kind of write-ups about restricting videotaping? Per usual, Tim Cushing’s article fails at listing some very important facts.

First, people are videotaping police officers while standing 15 feet away from the officer? Talk about a blatant lie. Looking at the vast majority of videos posted on youtube, videographers are usually standing 5-10 feet away and deliberately confront the cop because they feel they are entitled to obstruct a police officer from doing his or her job. There are very few videographers who stand a good distance away from the officer. I’m still reminded at the moron who flew his drone (equipped with a videocamera) and decided to fly his drone over a secured area of the police station.

Second, how many of these morons are videotaping police officers peacefully? Less than 5% of the videos that I have watched on youtube actually show the videographer being peaceful or failing to depart, deliberately trying to get arrested just to embarrass a police officer.

When you act like a dick to a police officer, you get exactly what you deserve, arrested and verbally abused.

Todd Shore (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When I act like a dick to a police officer I get exactly what most white men over 50 get – nothing. Why? Because it is my right. I don’t have to show anyone respect and if I let a police officer know it they can over react and I will own their ass or they can control themselves and follow the law. The problem is that when they are facing someone they feel they can take advantage of many do so.

No one is due respect just for who they are or what they do for a living. No one. It is up to each individual to decide who they wish to show respect. Except… a police officer is expected to respect the law at ALL times and be in control of their adrenaline rushes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Let's take your points point by point.

Looking at the vast majority of videos posted on youtube, videographers are usually standing 5-10 feet away and deliberately confront the cop because they feel they are entitled to obstruct a police officer from doing his or her job.

In the last couple of days, I have viewed quite a number of these “obstruction of police officers” and the simple fact is that the only people obstructing the police officers were the police officers themselves. In every case, the police officers got offended about being videoed and went on the offensive. In every case, it was the police officers that stopped doing their job and attacked the bystanders videotaping the incident. In every case, the police officers exceeded their authority. The only thing the bystanders did was stand their ground against a person who was acting as a bully.

The above also answers your second point. I find it interesting that you support the bullying of the public by the police instead of holding the police to the very high standard that they should be living up to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

When you act like a dick to a police officer, you get exactly what you deserve, arrested and verbally abused.

Can you point to specific language in standard operating procedures for police where this is specifically allowed?

Because not for nothing, it seems like the problem you have is police officers behaving badly, and getting called out for it. In which case, I say “Good!”

When you act like a dick AS A POLICE OFFICER you get exactly what YOU deserve – your name all over the Internet, tied to a video that shows the public exactly what kind of person you are.

jerry says:

Re: Re: Re:

i called the cops on my neighbor for cursing at my 5 year old son, even though she drinks 24/7 the cop came to my house and started to push me around in my front yard. but when my neighbors came out of their houses to see what was going on, the cop backed down, and walked away. i wish i would have had a camera going, becouse i would be in court with it. some cops think they are better than everyone else, and do not need to follow rules. lesson 1 : watch the cops to keep them honest. lesson 2: know your rights. lesson 3: do not let “goverment” take any more of our rights away.

Socrates says:

The fake reality

Main Stream Media news have been so littered with lies for decades that it is more misinformation than information. Cop killing citizens, and illoyal agents is all the rage, in the news.

I visited someone that watch Main Stream Media entertainment and it were just as ludicrous as the “news”. We watched Bones (TV-series) episode 220 and 222. In 220 Snowden is named, and is claimed to have caused agents to be killed. And to be a traitor. NSA is portrayed as all powerful. The fictional whistle blower agent kills his partner journalist. Really heavy handed propaganda.

In 222 the alternative journalist is a self professed psychopath. Cop killing is hammered as a theme throughout the episode, even harming main characters. A normal appearing teen is a intelligent cop killing psychopath.

Someone doesn’t like real information getting out!

Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously says:

Imagine the following exchange in court:
Judge: Why did you run away from the police?
Defendant: I did not, I was keeping the required 20 ft. distance when they approached me!

Joking aside, “Keeping the Peace” is beter served by de-escalating situations. (back to satire: Off course, the police is not interested in the former and incapable of performing the latter).

Anonymous Coward says:

when a law is sought to protect the activities of the police it can only be because the police are NOT acting to protect the rights of citizens and must be up to no good themselves. the problem is simple, they have been able and allowed to get away with far too much for far too long! it’s time they became upstanding members of the communities they serve, not people who wear uniforms but can be compared with those they are supposed to be protecting law-abiding citizens from

Anonymous Coward says:

Solution to problem that don't exists

Citizens filming police is not the problem here.

The ‘problem’ is sometimes people get too close to police making it hard for the police to do their job safely.

That is a problem with or without a recording device.

Banning the recording device in this situation makes no sense because it’s not the device causing issues it’s the person being too close causing the issue.

By banning recording it simply looks like the cops want to hide their actions and avoid accountability even if that’s not their motive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Solution to problem that don't exists

Exactly this. If the problem is people getting too close, ban people getting too close.

Except that there are all kinds of reasons not to ban merely getting within a certain number of feet of an officer (and hey, that statement also applies to people who happen to be recording.) Obstruction is already an offense. This bill does nothing constructive.

jilocasin (profile) says:

I smell an opportunity for a new app (cellphone capability)....

If municipalities keep pushing for vague halo laws, then perhaps it’s a opportunity for an enterprising company/developer to fill the LEO created gap.

In the future what we are going to need is for cameras to calculate the distance between the camera and the subject being filmed and display that number in the metadata and perhaps on the image itself.

A post app altercation may go like this:

LEO: “Your honour, not only was the perp vigorously resisting arrest, forcing me to defend my very life by shooting her 23 times, this person was obstructing me in my official duties by filming the lawful interaction from closer than the legally allowed 20 foot distance.”

Citizen Camera Wielder: “Judge, I think the video, safely retrieved from Google Drive after the officer destroyed my cell phone, speaks for itself. As you can plainly see, the octogenarian was face down after the first three shots when the officer rolled her over and fired the remaining shots into the front of her prone and unconscious body all the while yelling at the woman to ‘Stop Resisting’. Here you can see [pointing toward the screen], he notices me filming him, he then gets up and rushes toward the camera. That’s when he destroyed my phone and charged me with obstructing justice, interfering with an officer in his duties, and violating the minimum legal filming distance. As the distance display in the lower left corner clearly shows, until the officer charged toward me, at no point was the camera closer than 25 feet from the scene.”

Judge:”I don’t think we have enough evidence to charge the officer with any wrong doing during this altercation, but I will leave it up to the District Attorney and the Police Commissioner. As for the charge of violating the minimum legal filming distance, and the related charges, I am dismissing them all. You are free to go.”

So at least the camera person can survive the altercation…. this time.

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