Monday, December 4, 2023

Are Police Body Cameras Public Record

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Discussion Of The Literature

Police body cameras and public records

Effectiveness of BWCs

Multiple theories have been posited on how BWCs may impact officer behaviors, community-member behaviors, and their interactions. Most prominent is the argument of a civilizing effectthat individuals involved in a policecommunity interaction will behave in a calmer and more socially desirable manner when they are aware of being on camera or recorded . This may apply to both the officers, who might be more likely to adhere to departmental policies and be more willing to engage community-members in a professional manner, as well as the community members, who may be more cooperative and less combative.

The underlying theories of this concept are well established. Self-awareness theory has been applied to explain the intrinsic effects as a result of an officer and/or community members awareness of the BWC and, more specifically, that they are under recorded observation. The theory states that this knowledge makes individuals more likely to focus their attention inward on themselves, evaluate and compare their current behavior, and thus cooperate more with social norms, rules, and laws . This is directly applicable to officers with BWCs who know when their camera is recording and, as a result, may believe they will be negatively affected if they do not meet societal standards or department procedures.

Use of Force
Assaults on Officers
Citizen Complaints
Proactive Activities
BWC Limitations and Effectiveness

Inadequate Policies In Place

Whether or not police body camera footage is available to the public depends on the law of a particular jurisdiction. However, many police departments use this technology without having put policies in place to deal with the publics right to access this information.

Even in states that permit public access to such footage under their open public records law, there is often contradictory legislation that doesnt permit access to footage if it involves an ongoing investigation. The Los Angeles Police Department considers all such footage as potential evidence, alleging it doesnt fall under the states public records law. Some states allow the release of footage only in cases of criminal or civil litigation, in which case your lawyer can obtain it.

Issue Brief: Police Mobile Camera Footage As A Public Record

SAA Position

Footage from police mobile cameras, including body-worn cameras, dash-cams, and unmanned aerial vehicles, is a public record with informational and evidentiary value. Footage produced by police-operated cameras should be handled according to local, state, or federal records retention policies managed in systems that ensure their authenticity and made available to the public according to government records transparency and privacy laws. Records retention policies for law enforcement agencies should explicitly address camera footage in alignment with these principles.

This issue has taken on particular salience in recent years as a growing number of law enforcement agencies implement mobile camera programs. This trend is due in part to calls from Black Lives Matter, the Movement For Black Lives, and other community organizations to increase transparency of law enforcement agencies and ensure accountability when police use excessive force. The Society of American Archivists has a vested interest in developing and advocating for comprehensive policies to govern these records in the interest of serving the public good and affirming the importance of Black Lives.

In accordance with this position, SAA will:

The Issues

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State Laws: California Florida And North Dakota

California considers body-camera videos public records and requires law enforcement to release video to the public no later than 45 days after an incident is recorded. The law has minor exceptions for disclosure including if releasing the video would violate the privacy rights of individuals depicted. Florida and North Dakota have recently passed laws regarding the availability of police cam footage under public records laws. Florida’s law exempts from public records law any body camera video obtained inside a private residence, a health care, mental health care or social services facility or is taken in a place that a reasonable person would expect to be private. North Dakota’s law exempts any images taken in a private place by law enforcement from open records law.

How This Story Was Reported

See If You

This article is the second in the series called InFocus that examines the use of police body cameras and access to police video in Iowa.

The Iowa Newspaper Association and more than 50 Iowa newspaper reporters attempted to contact more than 300 Iowa law enforcement agencies starting in early November to request copies of their policies on body cameras and in-car dashboard cameras.

These initial contacts were made mostly through email and cited Iowa Code Chapter 22, the open records law.

More than 200 agencies provided policies in the first round. As for remaining agencies, some do not use body cameras, some have outsourced law enforcement to neighboring agencies and others were branches of a larger agency, such as the Iowa Department of Public Safety, which has one policy for all units.

In the second installment, reporters requested body camera video from the first incident in 2020 and this installment was produced after reviewing about 100 responses from across the state.

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Maybe I Should Stop Drinking

On another winter evening, I found myself standing inside another couples living room with two officers as the man and woman, separately, tried to explain why the wife had called 911 and accused the husband of threatening violence.

The husband was drunk and drinking continuously while talking to the officer, who was wearing a camera on his chest. He told a rambling story about how much trouble his wife had caused him over the years, musing that perhaps he should leave her and move on, but perhaps he loves her. On the other hand, he said, she had caused him nothing but grief and made his life miserable. Moments later, he continued, Maybe what I really should do is stop drinking, and he took another sip from his beer can.

Even if he had been sober, he probably would not have realized that this conversation might end up on YouTube with virtually unlimited visibility. If he had, would he or his wife have let the police into their house in the first place? Would the wife even have called to report her husbands threats?

There are potential social costs to deploying body-worn cameras, including possible invasions of privacy when sensitive moments are recorded or made public, and increasing police surveillance of communities already subjected to heightened police attention. When body cameras are introduced, careful attention to existing laws and policies, including public records laws, can help minimize harm to the public while increasing the transparency of police work.

Chief: Officers Will Initially Use Devices To Record Interrogations

The Camas Police Department is getting body-worn cameras.

Officers will initially use the cameras to fulfill a new state law requiring audio and visual recordings of all juvenile and some adult interrogations beginning Jan. 1, 2022, but Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey said his department also has discussed wearing the cameras full time.

Our Clark County prosecutor has encouraged all law enforcement agencies to embrace body-worn cameras for police officers to provide a higher level of transparency and increase trust in law enforcement and criminal justice, Lackey told Camas City Council members in October. Although Camas police need a body-worn camera platform immediately for the purposes of achieving compliance with the new reform law, it makes sense to purchase the right device that will allow for a complete body-worn camera program, once that is implemented at a later date.

Lackey said the city will still need to negotiate a full-time body-worn camera program with its police union and go through several procedural steps, but he said officers will be ready to comply with the states new interrogation-recording law once the city receives its new AXON body-worn cameras.

The city council approved a five-year, $311,168 contract with AXON at its Oct. 18 meeting.

The contract will outfit every Camas police officer with an AXON body-worn camera, redaction software for public records requests and data-storage services, Lackey said.

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Is Footage From Police Body Cameras Public Record

Ed Smith

If you or a loved one have been involved in an unpleasant encounter with the police, or youve been the victim of an accident or crime and the police were on the scene, youre probably glad that theres a record filmed by the officers body camera. However, the existence of such a record and obtaining access to it are two very different things.

Why Is It Still So Hard To See Police Bodycam Footage In Pennsylvania

Ohio law making police body, dashboard camera public record goes into effect

In this file photo, a Philadelphia Police officer demonstrates a body camera used as part of a pilot project in December 2014 in Philadelphia.

Police body cameras are a rare tool that can help secure criminal convictions and hold police officers accountable. The recordings theoretically make it harder for police to lie about what happened, and, in turn, for citizens to lie about police.

It is an absolute key to police accountability, said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, describing the dual benefits in an interview with WHYY. And its an absolute key to our ability to prove cases against people who have committed crimes.

But for the general public, getting a glimpse of any body or dashcam footage is a rare feat, partly thanks to a Pennsylvania law that intentionally makes it hard to access.

While Pennsylvanias restrictions on police footage arent necessarily worse than other states, advocates say access could and should be improved. Some have filed legal challenges or introduced legislation to loosen guidelines, and the governor says hes open to reviewing or revising the laws.

The Walter Wallace Jr. shooting last fall marked the first time video of a police shooting was released by Philadelphia Police Department, ever. Although Wallaces family asked for its release, it was voluntarily made public by the PPD and DAO rather than through this formal request process.

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Can The Agency Ask Me To Pay For The Time It Takes Them To Locate Files Or Redact Audio Or Video

No. The Public Records Act allows agencies only the charge for the “direct costs of duplication, or a statutory fee if appliable.”9 That means that agencies can charge for the costs of paper and ink, or for the disks or drives on which they provide data, but cannot charge for the time their staff spend finding records, making copies or even redacting documents. Despite this, for several years, police agencies still tried to charge requestors an hourly rate, often amounting to thousands of dollars, for the time their staff spent editing body camera video to redact confidential information, arguing that editing video was more like programming a computer to extract data than it was like redacting a document.

However, on May 28, 2020, the California Supreme Court in National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward rejected this argument10 and held that the Public Records Act does not allow police departments to charge requestors of police body camera footage for the staff time required to locate that footage and edit it to redact audio & video to remove private information.

If an agency has tried to charge you for the time required to make redactions in audio or video, please see our model follow-up lettera> notifying them of the Hayward decision and informing them such charges are unlawful.

What Do I Do If The Law Enforcement Agency Does Not Respond

Every agency is required by law to respond and produce relevant, non-confidential documents that they do not otherwise have the right to withhold. If they have records that they need to disclose and do not, they are in violation of the law. You should first follow-up with the agency in writing and continue to request the documents. If they still do not respond, you can enforce your right to this information by bringing a lawsuit in Superior Court. If you win your challenge the agency can be required to pay your attorneys’ fees.14 So, you may be able to find a lawyer to represent you on contingency, who will get paid only if you collect the fees from your lawsuit.

1. Cal. Penal Code §832.7-.

2. Cal. Penal Code §832.7-.

3. Cal. Penal Code §832.7.

4. Cal. Penal Code §832.7 832.8.

5. Cal. Penal Code §832.7-.

6. See Cal. Penal Code §832.7 for the full list of example documents that you can access under this law.

7. Cal. Gov’t Code §6253.1.

8. Cal. Gov’t Code §6253.9, .

9. Govt Code § 6253.

10. No. S252445, __ P.3d. ___

11. Cal. Gov’t Code §6253.

12. Cal. Gov’t Code §832.7.

13. Cal. Gov’t Code §832.7.

14. Cal. Gov’t Code §6259.

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When Should I Expect A Response

The law requires that an agency respond to any Public Record Act request in 10 days, acknowledging the request, giving a timeline for a full response and informing the requestor if they are claiming any exemptions.11 An agency can ask for a 14-day extension to respond to the request. The more extensive the request, or if it may require a lot of redactions to keep certain information confidential, the longer it may take to respond. While agencies are supposed to respond promptly, many agencies often take a long time. If you haven’t heard from them, follow-up reminding them that you are still awaiting a response, and document every contact with the agency.

Also, if you are seeking information about a relatively-recent serious use of force, an agency has the right but is not required to temporarily withhold the relevant documents if there is an ongoing criminal or administrative investigation that could be harmed by the release of these documents.12 How long the agency can withhold depends on whether investigation is criminal or just administrative, but in most cases it cannot withhold longer than 18 months after the incident occurred. If criminal charges are filed, the material can be withheld until the criminal case has ended.13

States With Some Of The Strictest Rules On Releasing Body Cam Videos

Seeing a dip in recordings, Minneapolis police aim to ...

Police body camera footage is under new scrutiny following a judges ruling in North Carolina limiting the portions of video that can be seen by the family members of Andrew Brown Jr., who was fatally shot by an officer last month.

With no federal requirements on releasing police videos, states often differ in their approach to making the footage publicly available, and not all states have regulations in place.

Some states, like California and New York, require the release of police videos in most cases, while others only allow the release of recordings following a court order. Most states that allow recordings to be released have privacy exceptions along with restrictions if the footage would interfere with an ongoing investigation.

Here are the states that have some of the most restrictive laws governing disclosure of police body camera recordings.


The state does not have a statute directly governing disclosure of body camera videos, and law enforcement investigation reports and related material are not public record. Materials can be disclosed, however, by court order.


State law that body camera footage is not a public record unless it contains the attempt or use of deadly force. The law enforcement agency must also consent to the videos release.




North Carolina

Body-worn camera footage is not considered a public record and can only be released by court order.

South Carolina



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List Of The Cons Of Police Body Cameras

1. Body cameras do not change how police officers approach their job. A recent study of over 2,500 police officers who serve in the Metro Department in Washington, D.C. found that the presence of body cameras was statistically insignificant on the impact it played on the decision-making process of an official. The use of force was still present in the same situations even with the device recording everything that happened.

This technology can prevent inappropriate comments or the occasional swearing because it changes the approach of the individual, but the training and natural response that happens in a heated situation force the instincts of a police officer to kick in instead.

2. This technology does not pick up everything that an officer sees. A police body camera is only useful when it is pointed in the direction of a suspect or the action they are facing. That means complex situations might not receive clear and convincing video evidence of an outcome, even if there are multiple officers involved. That means the administrative reports that come from each law enforcement division are still one of the primary forms of evidence that are used to create a picture of what happened during a situation. Theres no guarantee that the quality of the video is going to be good enough to pick up a problematic incident either.

Body Cameras: Public Records And Foia Requests

As more police officers are donning cameras, thorny legal issues are looming behind the scenes

According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, many police departments are adopting bodycams before creating policies or procedures for compliance with open records laws.

The Federal Freedom of Information Act broadly exempts from disclosure records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes if their production:

  • Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings
  • Would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication
  • Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy
  • Could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source which furnished information on a confidential basis
  • Would disclose techniques for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions that could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law
  • Could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of anyone
  • An agency must demonstrate that disclosure would cause harm in only 2 and 5 Congress lessened the standard to could in the other subsections.

    State and local public records and FOIA requests vary. Thank the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for an interactive, online map charting the body camera policies of more than 100 police departments and laws in nearly every state regarding public access to police body camera videos.

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