Court strikes down Arizona's law banning filming of police

The police are public servants, have no expectation of privacy in carrying out their duties, and there is a constitutional right to film them at work. This was the message sent by a Federal judge in striking down a law, passed by Arizona lawmakers, imposing strict limits on filming police there.

The ban was proposed after bystander footage showed officers in Minneapolis murdering George Floyd, which led to widespread protests and calls for police reform. Arizona's near-total ban on filming cops, moderated only to allow filming from a distance and by detained drivers, ultimately passed by the legislature's slim Republican majority despite the prospect of overwhelming legal opposition. Subsequently, Republican state Sen. John Kavanagh, the bill's sponsor, reported that he was unable to find lawyers willing to defend the legislation.

A coalition of media groups and the ACLU successfully sued to block the law. Prominent law enforcement officials refused to defend the law, including former Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich and both the prosecutor and sheriff's office in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix.

Bystander cellphone videos are largely credited with revealing police misconduct — such as with the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers — and reshaping the conversation around police transparency. But Republican Arizona lawmakers initially said the legislation was needed to limit people with cameras who deliberately impede officers.

The Associated Press filed a friend of the court brief urging Tuchi to block the law from being enforced. The AP's attorneys said that photographers especially could be caught up while covering rallies, where it could limit their ability to capture the full interactions between police and protesters.

The worst part of a terrible law: police could order people to stop filming even on private property, with all that implies. The only way they could have made the purpose of the law more obvious would have been to name it the "Police Can Commit Any Crimes They Like Without Accountability Act."