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 THE PERSON MAKING THE VIDEO RECORDING DOES NOT HAVE THE PERMISSION OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER AND IS WITHIN TWENTY FEET OF WHERE THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING.
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.
IF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING IN AN ENCLOSED STRUCTURE THAT IS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY, A PERSON WHO IS AUTHORIZED TO BE ON THE PRIVATE PROPERTY MAY MAKE A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE ACTIVITY FROM AN ADJACENT ROOM OR AREA THAT IS LESS THAN TWENTY FEET AWAY FROM WHERE THE ACTIVITY IS OCCURRING, UNLESS A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER DETERMINES THAT THE PERSON IS INTERFERING IN THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY OR THAT IT IS NOT SAFE TO BE IN THE AREA AND ORDERS THE PERSON TO STOP RECORDING OR TO LEAVE THE AREA.
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.