A new bill was introduced to the NH House on January 5, 2022 that, if passed, could have serious, far-reaching consequences for 1st amendment auditors and anyone attempting to witness or film police interactions in New Hampshire.
Introduced by Rep. Al Baldasaro (R – Rockingham 5) and cosponsored by Rep. David Love, Rep. Vanessa Sheehan, Sen. Sharon Carson, Sen. Bob Giuda, and other Republicans, the bill attempts to add an 11th section to Chapter 642 of the Criminal Code; (642:11 Impeding or Provoking a Law Enforcement Officer.)
NH HB 1025 was presented to the New Hampshire House Committee on January 19, 2022. Committee members voted unanimously to recommend ITL (inexpedient to legislate) status for this bill. Nineteen of the 21 members were present, with a final vote in favor of ITL: “Yea” – 19 votes; “Nay” – 0 votes; with 2 not voting. You can view the vote in the video below (48:35 – 52:10.)
Opens the Way for “Feelings-Based” Policing
In essence, the update would give police vague avenues by which to arrest someone if they deem that person is “interrupting, disrupting, hindering, impeding, or interfering” in any way with their police work. What one officer deems “disrupting” another may deem perfectly fine, so this appears to leave the door open for interpretation. It also leaves the door open for policing based on “feelings.” Generally when things are left open to interpretation based on “feelings” it is our Constitutional rights that go by the wayside.
This bill would give police the right to tell any person that they must stay back at least 30 feet from any scene, for any reason. For example, if you’ve been told to stay back, and continue to approach, they could slap you with a class A misdemeanor for “interference” or any one of those other terms they’ll have at their behest. If a police officer tells you to stay back and you’re closer than 30 feet, if you don’t move back to the 30 foot mark, they could slap you with a class A misdemeanor. If an officer “feels” you’re provoking a physical response, same drill. See how this works?
Impeding or Provoking a Law Officer (642:11)
- I. After receiving a verbal warning from a law enforcement officer not to approach, no person shall:
- (a) Violate such warning and approach;
- (b) Remain within 30 feet of a law enforcement officer who is engaged in the lawful performance of any legal duty with the intent to:
- (1) Interrupt, disrupt, hinder, impede, or interfere with the law enforcement officer s ability to perform such duty; or
- (2) Provoke a physical response from the law enforcement officer.
- II. A person who violates this section shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
- 2 Effective Date. This act shall take effect January 1, 2023.
How Might This Affect the Filming of Police in New Hampshire?
The bill clearly states that if an officer verbally warns you not to approach, you cannot approach that officer or that scene at all: “After receiving a verbal warning from a law enforcement officer not to approach, no person shall violate such warning and approach.”
While HB 1025 does detail a 30-foot-distance rule once a person has been told to step back, it does not detail at what distance an officer is allowed to initially shout to you that you mustn’t approach a scene. Could it be a warning they shout at you from 100 feet away? What about when you’re 300 feet away? If they just don’t “feel” like “dealing” with someone filming them, could they technically shout to you from any distance not to approach?
Many times, as we’ve seen in the news, video footage of police encounters is what clears the innocent and brings responsibility to police actions. This bill would allow the police to bar virtually any person from any scene that they deem a nuisance. When the ability to film police encounters is diminished, our Constitutional freedoms quickly follow. What starts as 15 feet will become 30 feet, then 50.
Breaking the Flaw, a well-known New Hampshire videographer, had this to say about the new bill: “As someone who likes to witness police interactions with a camera, I find it absurd that the direction of this bill will limit our ability for government transparency.”
Similar Legislation is Popping Up All Over
Recently, Rep. John Kavanaugh (R – Arizona), an ex-police officer, sponsored a bill that would require “anyone with a camera” to stay 15 feet away from a scene or police officer in Arizona. According to a MSM report dated 1/22/22, “The lawmaker said he has been approached by officers in Tucson who were concerned that people recording them were getting too close for the officers’ and their own safety.”
In July of 2021, Rep. Alex Rizo (R – Florida) introduced a bill very similar in wording to New Hampshire HB 1025, making it unlawful to “interrupt, disrupt, hinder, impede, or interfere” with a police officer within 30 feet. Under Florida HB 11, any person who is deemed by an officer to cause a disturbance faces a 2nd degree misdemeanor. What constitutes a disturbance is completely based on how the officer “feels” in a given situation.
In May of 2021, Governor Kevin Stitt (R – Oklahoma) signed HB 1643, which took effect Nov. 1, 2021. Under this legislation, it’s unlawful to post a video or photo of a police officer with “threatening intent” (as defined by a judge or prosecutor.) In addition, HB 2273 makes it unlawful to publish any personally identifiable information of a law enforcement officer, including in video recordings. This includes an officer’s name, birth date, address, telephone number, driver license number, Social Security number, or place of employment, and includes “a photograph or any other realistic likeness of the person.”
Safety From Scrutiny
Long has it been a curious thing to ponder how a camera can affect officer safety. If anything, filming the police has led to increased public safety by holding armed thugs with shiny badges accountable for their actions. While I can think of many examples of filming the police resulting in public safety, I can’t think of many instances where filming the police led to the police being harmed somehow. By “officer safety” they perhaps really mean “safety from scrutiny.”
“It’s hard to see such a blanket ban as anything but a targeted assault on First Amendment activity,” says Ari Cohn, a First Amendment lawyer who works at TechFreedom, a think tank dedicated to technology issues. “Cops have long tried claiming that the act of filming them in itself obstructs their ability to do their job…and now that this argument failed, they are rather transparently trying to create a safe space from observation by the people they are sworn to serve.”
What You Can Do