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Law preventing police filming struggles to balance First Amendment with space for officers' duties

Published: Wednesday, September 7, 2022 - 11:58am
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Arizona State University
Michael Scott

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and some local media outlets is challenging the constitutionality of a new Arizona law, which prevents people from filming police within 8 feet of the officer.

There is an exception for people who are themselves the subject of the police action. The groups suing argue it violates the First Amendment rights of those who want to record what the police are doing and those who want to see what police are doing.

Without an injunction, the law will take effect later this month.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich, by the way, says he will not defend the law in court. In filings, he said it’d be up to county prosecutors, not his office, to decide whether or not to pursue charges, so those offices should be the ones defending the law. Both the Maricopa County Attorney and Sheriff’s offices have also said they will not defend the law or oppose the request to block it from taking effect.

Michael Scott says the law seems to be aimed at addressing a challenge police officers face: giving them the space to do what they need to do without undue interference or obstruction. But Scott also says that competes with another legitimate interest the public has — the ability to observe and record what police are doing.

Scott is a former police officer and a clinical professor in Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The Show spoke with him to learn about the conflict.

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