June 12, 2020 / 4:01 PM / a month ago

Fact check: Ordinance makes it illegal to record Tucson police in Arizona within a “restricted area”

Social media users are circulating images that claim it is illegal for the public to record police officers in Tucson, Arizona. This claim requires context.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Examples of the claim can be seen here and here . One post states it is now illegal to film police and doing so could lead to a $750 fine, while another states that a Tucson City Council ordinance makes it illegal to film the police.

Although the ordinance passed in April, this claim is gaining traction on social media following the recent wave of protests in the U.S. against police brutality ( here ).

ORDINANCE 11746

On April 21, 2020, the Tucson City Council unanimously passed Ordinance 11746, effective immediately ( here ).

The ordinance states that the public has the right to free speech and to continue recording the activities of law enforcement in public areas. However, it prohibits an individual or group of people from interfering with an officer engaged in “lawful police activity” such as an investigation or a crime scene ( here ).

Under the provisions of this ordinance, police officers can set up crime scene boundaries, which in effect function as “do not cross lines” for individuals or groups who might want to record the activities of law enforcement officers. It states that the distance involved is not the same for every situation and that “in most circumstances where no one is hindering or obstructing a police activity, no ‘do not cross line’ or boundary is ever set.”

Violating the ordinance can result in a Class 2 misdemeanor charge punishable with a $750 dollar fine or four months in jail ( here:~:text=Class%202%20misdemeanor%2D%20A%20class,second%20degree%20and%20criminal%20damage ).

According to local media reports, the Tucson City Council approved and adopted the ordinance in an attempt to curb people from interfering with the activities of the Tucson Police Department (TPD) and endangering the lives of officers, the public and themselves ( here ; here ).

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and council members have argued that the ordinance was a result of incidents of an auditor “harassing” police officers on duty, seen here , according to KOLD News 13.

CRITICISM

Some critics of the ordinance see it as a means of discouraging the public from recording police misconduct, despite the inclusion of First Amendment protections in its provisions ( here ).

The ordinance also leaves it to officers’ discretion in how they set up crime scene areas or define “do not cross” lines. Tucson City Council argues that the specificity of the ordinance’s language, and additional training will prevent abuses ( here ).

Michael Avery, emeritus professor of law at Suffolk University and president of the board of the National Police Accountability Project, told Reuters that he thinks the ordinance poses the risk of being applied and interpreted unconstitutionally by police officers.

Avery said that given the history of police fighting in court against the right for the public to record officers in public, there is a danger of officers abusing the ordinance to shield their activities from public scrutiny. According to Avery, these risks make the ordinance “a bad idea.” He added that the ordinance “will lead to repeated litigation about how it is applied and, in the meantime, the rights of the public to record police activity will compromised.”

Tucson Council Member Steve Kozachik told Reuters via email that the claims on social media are “wholly inaccurate”. He referred to how the ordinance “explicitly allows for videotaping police activity” and said, “nothing in this ordinance remotely prevents that from being done.” He also added that police officers wear body cameras and said the City Council had not received any complaints involving the concern that police would set up a crime scene in a way that prevents the ability to film.

PROPOSED REVIEW

The attention the ordinance has received on social media, including by celebrities including Ice Cube ( here ) and Armie Hammer ( here ), has prompted the Tucson City Council to consider community input and place the ordinance back under further review, as per a statement posted on Twitter by Tucson’s mayor ( here ).

Mayor Regina Romero and the Tucson Police Department did not respond to Reuters request for comment by the time of this fact check’s publication.

VERDICT

Partly false. In April 2020, the city of Tucson, Arizona approved an ordinance that prohibited recording police officers in some circumstances. After public scrutiny, the ordinance was submitted for review.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here  .

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