Is It Illegal To Film The Police In Tucson? Mayor Reconsidering Ordinance After Social Media Controversy

By Lauren Gilger, Steve Goldstein
Published: Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 1:15pm
Updated: Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 12:00pm

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Tucson skyline
Justin Stabley/KJZZ
Tucson, Arizona.

LAUREN GILGER: As protests continue against police violence across the country, a city ordinance in Tucson is causing controversy online. Tucson City Ordinance No. 11746 allows police to prohibit people from entering a crime scene. Activists are worried the new law could be used to prevent people from filming the police. The ordinance was discussed again this week at the council, and now the members and the mayor will take up the issue again in two weeks. Joining us now to talk more about this is Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. Thank you for joining us, Mayor.

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REGINA ROMERO: Thank you so much for having me, Lauren and Steve.

GILGER: I want to begin with the original intent of this ordinance. It was voted on, I think, not all that long ago. What was the idea? Why, why was this necessary to begin with?

Regina Romero
Regina Romero
Regina Romero

ROMERO: Well, as is with this year, right, 2020, things change on a dime. And the ordinance came to us from [the] police department, from our chief, Chief [Chris] Magnus, in response to a small group of right-wing individuals. They call themselves the "First Amendment auditors," who make their living off of recording videos of police departments and police officers, shouting obscenities and horrendous insults. And then they sell their video online. And so the police department had been having issues with these "First Amendment auditors" who have police scanners and show up at scenes. And so TPD brought the ordinance to us, and there are other cities throughout Arizona that have similar ordinances. The city of Tucson had not considered an ordinance like this, but it really was brought to us to protect not just police officers, but crime scenes and victims in crime scenes. And so the ordinance passed unanimously, although there were concern[s] about First Amendment rights for people to record. The ordinance explicitly says that the public has a clear right to record the police. And in doing so, the city of Tucson codified that First Amendment right to recording police. But in light of Mr. George Floyd's killing and that particular recording, of course, you know, this ordinance would was brought to light by the community. And there was a lot of misinformation out there. Lots of people were saying on social media that recording was prohibited by the city of Tucson — that is not right. That is misinformation. And so what I felt was prudent to do is to bring back the ordinance to the table for mayor and council to reconsider. The other piece of information that I've heard from members of the community and from experts is that there is room for ... officers to block recording. And so what I felt as mayor is bring it back to mayor and council, give opportunity for the public to give us feedback and input and make the changes that we need to do to add further layers of protection for First Amendment rights of our community.




STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Mayor, you mentioned it was unanimous, but because of the backlash ... was it a tough call ultimately because you weren't sure if people would understand it? 

ROMERO: No, it was not a tough call. For a first and foremost, the "First Amendment auditor" videos are horrendous and obstructive when a police officer is either trying to help a victim or trying to do their job — just a simple stop. It is abusive. And so we were all in shock of the videos that we saw in terms of how they treated our police officers. So that's why the ordinance passed unanimously. So at the time that it passed, we asked about, "OK, we, we need to make sure that we pilot this ordinance, that we come back to mayor and council to make sure that we're not using it in an obstructive manner in terms of people's First Amendment." So we all expressed some concern. And it was not a tough decision to bring it back to the table either. I think in light of what is happening throughout the country and because of police violence, specifically to black communities, we have to make sure that we put this ordinance in front of our community. We say what it is, and we say what it's not. And it does not take that First Amendment right of recording away from people. So ... I think we just need to make sure that we modify the language so that we tighten it up and make sure that officers are not using discretion to block any recording for their community. So there's some work. And I think it's important that we, we speak clearly and frankly with the community of what we need. Mayor and council need to listen to the concerns that, that others have. So I think that if we give it 30 to 60 days for community feedback, modify the language and bring it back, everyone will understand what the ordinance is intended to do.

GILGER: All right. That is Tucson Mayor Regina Romero joining us this morning. Thank you so much, Mayor, for joining us.

ROMERO: Thank you, too. Have a wonderful day.

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