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14. Police video (e.g, body camera footage, dashcam videos)

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  • Alabama

    Something Extra Publishing, Inc. v. Mack permitted restricting access to body camera footage, when such footage constitutes an “investigative record”under Ala. Code § 12-21-3.1. 350 So. 3d 663, 663 (Ala. 2021).  Under a law passed in June 2023, an individual or personal representative thereof who appears in a body camera or dash camera video may send a written request to law enforcement to view relevant portions of the video, but the individual is forbidden from recording or copying the video if police choose to disclose it. 2023 Alabama House Bill No. 289.  Additionally, the law does not obligate law enforcement to release the record, nor does it require law enforcement to provide requesters a reason for denial.  See id.; Mike Cason, Alabama’s New Law on Police Body Camera Videos Does Not Require Public Disclosure, AL.com (June 22, 2023).

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  • Alaska

    Though municipal and state law enforcement agencies have their own policies regarding access to body-worn camera footage, there is no state-level statute governing access.  Alaska’s open records law provides, however, that the public has a right to inspect law enforcement records–including, presumably, body camera footage–unless such inspection “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 the personal privacy of a suspect, defendant, victim, or witness”; “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source”; “would disclose confidential techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions”; “would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law”; or “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of an individual.”  Alaska Stat. Ann. § 40.25.120.

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  • Arizona

    Arizona does not have a specific statute that governs access to body-worn camera footage, though footage has been made available by individual departments, often for a fee.  Additionally, Arizona Rev. Stat. § 39-121.04 bars disclosure of any law enforcement record that “visually depicts the image of a witness under eighteen years of age or a victim as defined in A.R.S. § 13-4401,” unless “disclosure outweighs the witness’s or victim’s right to privacy.”

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  • Arkansas

    Arkansas law provides that body-worn camera footage “that depicts or records the death of a law enforcement officer is confidential and exempt from disclosure,” unless the requester is a family member of the deceased officer.  Ark. Code Ann. § 12-6-701.  Otherwise, body-worn camera footage should generally be subject to disclosure, provided it is not a record consisting of or containing “[u]ndisclosed investigations by law enforcement agencies of suspected criminal activity.” Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-105(b)(6).  

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  • California

    • Body-worn camera recordings of critical incidents–including those involving the discharge of a firearm by a peace officer or custodial officer and incidents in which the use of force by a peace or custodial officer against a person results in death or great bodily injury–are public, unless disclosure would interfere with an ongoing investigation or “violate the reasonable expectation of privacy of a subject depicted in the recording.”  Cal. Gov't Code § 7923.625.  If the recording threatens to interfere with an ongoing investigation, it may only be withheld for 45 days (subject to further extension).  Id.  A recording of a critical incident can be withheld if the privacy interests of the subject outweigh the public interest in disclosure.  Id.  However, if the subject themselves, their representative, or legal guardian requests disclosure, the recording may be released, privacy interests notwithstanding.  Id.   
    • In National Lawyers Guild v. Hayward, the California Supreme Court held that the city could not charge requesters for time spent redacting exempt information from body camera footage.  464 P.3d 594, 596–97 (2020).  The court reasoned that while “[r]edacting exempt footage can be time-consuming and costly,” there was no applicable provision of the California Public Records Act that would “provide a basis for charging requesters for the costs of redacting government records kept in an electronic format, including digital video footage.”  Id. at 608.
    • The Sixth District Court of Appeal has found that there is no duty for agencies to preserve “all documents responsive to a public records request that have been withheld” for three years, including the body-worn camera footage at issue in that case.  City of Gilroy v. Superior Ct. of Santa Clara Cnty., 96 Cal. App. 5th 818, 314 Cal. Rptr. 3d 681, 695–97 (2023).  Body-worn camera footage need only be retained for a minimum of sixty days, Pen. Code, § 832.18, subd. (b)(5)(A), or for a minimum of 2 years if the footage depicts “officer use of force or officer involved shootings,” “an arrest or detention of an individual,” or “recordings relevant to a complaint against a law enforcement agency or officer.”  Id.  Though the Penal Code expressly states that these provisions may not limit the public’s right of access under the CPRA, agencies are not obligated to deviate from the retention schedule outlined in the Penal Code, and “the CPRA does not govern the retention of public records.”  Id.

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  • Colorado

    • Colorado Revised Statute § 24-31-902, which went into effect in 2023, sets out state policies for body-worn cameras.  The retention schedule for body-worn camera recordings is set by each law enforcement agency in compliance with Colorado state archives’ rules.  C.R.S. § 24-31-902(1)(b).  
    • When there is any “complaint of peace officer misconduct by another peace officer, a civilian, or nonprofit organization” that is reported to the officer’s law enforcement agency, the agency or Colorado state police must release any and all unedited body-worn camera videos of the incident within 21 days after receiving the request.  C.R.S. § 24-31-902(2)(a).  If there are any criminal charges “filed against any party to the incident, that party must file any constitutional objection to release of the recording in the pending criminal case before the twenty-one-day period expires.”  C.R.S. § 24-31-902(2)(c).  The 21 day period tolls from the date of appointment of counsel, entry of appearance, or election to proceed pro se in instances where there is a pending criminal investigation of any party to the incident.  Id.  
    • There are myriad additional provisions that apply when there is a complaint of police officer misconduct.  First, any body-worn camera footage depicting a death must be provided, upon request, to the spouse, parent, legal guardian, child, etc., or other lawful representative of the victim.  At least 72 hours prior to public disclosure, the agency must notify the victim’s next-of-kin of their right to receive and review the footage.  C.R.S. § 24-31-902(b)(I)
    • In connection with a complaint of misconduct, any video raising “substantial privacy concerns for criminal defendants, victims, witnesses, juveniles, or informants”--including videos involving a mental health crisis, any personal information of an individual not arrested, charged or cited, and gruesome bodily injury “unless the injury was caused by a peace officer”--must be blurred “to protect the substantial privacy interest while still allowing public release.”  C.R.S. § 24-31-902(b)(II)(A).  In such an instance, footage may be unblurred only with the written authorization of the victim, or if they are deceased, their next-of-kin.  Id.  Additionally, if blurring alone cannot protect the privacy interests at stake, but the victim depicted in body-worn camera footage or their next-of-kin requests the footage, law enforcement must release the footage–upon request–to those person(s) within 20 days of receiving a complaint of misconduct.  C.R.S. § 24-31-902(b)(II)(B).  If the footage is not released to the public because blurring cannot adequately protect substantial privacy interests, the agency must notify the individual(s) whose privacy interests are implicated within twenty days of receiving a complaint of misconduct and must tell the individual(s) of their right to waive the privacy protection and allow for publication.  Id.  Finally, if a witness, victim, or criminal defendant waives, in writing, their right to privacy and provides law enforcement with the waiver and a request for release, law enforcement “may not redact or withhold release to protect that privacy interest.”  C.R.S. § 24-31-902(b)(II)(C).  
    • When misconduct is alleged, “[a]ny video that would substantially interfere with or jeopardize an active or ongoing investigation may be withheld from the public.”  C.R.S. § 24-31-902(b)(III).  The prosecution must “prepare a written explanation of the interference or jeopardy that justifies the delayed release, contemporaneous with the refusal to release the video.”  Id.  However, the video must be released “no later than forty-five days from the date of the allegation of misconduct,” except when the charged offense(s) are traffic violations–in that case, release can be delayed.  Id.  When the video is actually released, the prosecution must provide the written explanation justifying delayed release to the public.  Id.

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  • District of Columbia

    The D.C. Act specifies that “[a]ny body-worn camera recordings recorded by the Metropolitan Police Department” may be exempt from disclosure if they are taken “[i]nside a personal residence” or “[r]elate[] to an incident involving domestic violence . . ., stalking . . ., or sexual assault.” D.C. Code Ann. § 2-534(a)(2A)(A)-(B)See also United States v. Kingsbury, 325 F. Supp. 3d 158, 160 (D.D.C. 2018) (noting that “the D.C. Code and the regulations promulgated thereunder by the Metropolitan Police Department . . . embod[y] a ‘policy judgment’ that body-worn camera materials ‘tend to contain information that implicates privacy concerns’”) (citing United States v. Johnson, 314 F. Supp. 3d 248, 257 (D.D.C. 2018)). 

    D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24 § 3902.5(a)–(b) further specify that the subject of body-worn camera footage– or their legal representative – may view the footage only after filing a FOIA request, and only if individual privacy rights or safety of another subject of the footage would not be imperiled.  Any other requests for footage must be made via FOIA, and must be made to MPD.  D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 24 § 3902.3, 3902.6.  

    However, in some instances, the mayor has an affirmative duty to publicly release body camera footage. Pursuant to D.C. Code Ann. § 5-116.33(c), the mayor must do so within five days of an officer-involved death or an incident involving serious use of force. Under § 5-116.33, the mayor must release the names and camera recordings of all officers directly involved, as well as a description of the incident. The law also gives the mayor discretion to release certain recordings that would otherwise be exempt under FOIA.  D.C. Code Ann. § 5-116.33(c)(2)(B).  However, recordings may be withheld if the decedent’s next of kin or the victim of serious force informs the mayor that they do not consent to release.  D.C. Code Ann. § 5-116.33(c)(3)(A)(i)–(ii). 

    Before the mayor releases body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved death, MPD must “[c]onsult with an organization with expertise in trauma and grief on best practices” for allowing the decedent’s family to view the footage prior to its release.  D.C. Code Ann. § 5-116.33(d)(1).  

    Finally, the mayor must maintain a database on MPD’s website of all names and body-worn camera recordings of officers involved in someone’s death since the body camera program was launched in 2014.  D.C. Code Ann. § 5-116.33(c)(2)(A)(ii).

    D.C.’s police union challenged the mandatory release of body camera footage as an unwarranted invasion of officers’ “fundamental right” to privacy. See Fraternal Order of Police Metro. Police Dep’t Lab. Comm. v. Dist. of Columbia, 290 A.3d 29, 44 (D.C. 2023). The D.C. Court of Appeals rejected the argument, pointing to the First Amendment interests at play, as well as officers’ reduced expectations of privacy while on the job. Id.; see also Advisory Opinion D.C. Office of Open Government, OOG-002-10.1.19-AO (Nov. 5, 2020) (non-binding) (finding that the police may not redact indications of officer identity or business addresses from body-worn camera footage on the grounds of protecting officer privacy).

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  • Florida

    Body camera footage is confidential and exempt if the recording is taken inside a private residence, a medical or health care facility, or any place in which a person would have an expectation of privacy. Fla. Stat. § 119.071(2)(l). Accordingly, body camera footage taken on a public street generally should be disclosed. However, the statute also provides that other exemptions may apply to limit disclosure. Most frequently, law enforcement agencies will withhold body camera footage or portions thereof based on the active criminal investigative exemption in Fla. Stat. § 119.071(2)(c).

    A video recording of the killing of an officer in the line of duty, a minor, or a victim of mass violence is exempt from disclosure except when next-of-kin want to view the video.  Fla. Stat. Ann. § 119.071(2)(p)(2)(b)

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  • Georgia

    With certain exceptions, Georgia requires video recordings from law enforcement body-worn devices and devices inside of law enforcement vehicles to be retained for a minimum of 180 days. O.C.G.A. § 50-18-96. Unless part of an initial arrest or incident report, the recordings may be exempt from disclosure under the Act’s pending investigation or prosecution exception or if made in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a) (4), (26.2).  In Augusta Press, Inc. v. Roundtree, the Georgia Court of Appeals found that “video is not subject to release if, but for law enforcement’s presence for a pending investigation, it is made in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”  888 S.E.2d 267, 270 (Ga. App. 2023) (emphasis in original).

    An exception to O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(26.2)’s bar on disclosure may be made where the representative of a deceased individual’s estate, a minor’s guardian, or a party to a civil action is depicted in the video, among other reasons.  O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(26.2).  There is an additional $10 fee, on top of other record search and copying costs, for copying video recordings from body-worn cameras.  O.C.G.A. § 50-18-96. 

     

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  • Hawaii

    Hawaii does not have statewide legislation regarding body-worn cameras.  However, under H.R.S. § 92F-13, any record constituting an invasion of personal privacy, or threatening to frustrate a legitimate government function, is exempt from disclosure.  In 2021, the Hawaii Office of Information Practices (OIP) issued an opinion declaring, inter alia, that body-worn camera recordings fall within the Uniform Information Practices Act’s definition of “government records.”  No. OIP Letter No. F22-01, 2021 WL 6751762, at *8 (Hawaii A.G. Dec. 22, 2021).  The opinion cautioned that “wholesale withholding of BWC records in every situation” is inappropriate; withholding must be determined case-by-case.  Id. at *10.

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  • Illinois

    The subject of the body camera footage may obtain the recording through FOIA regardless of whether it has been flagged under 50 ILCS 406/10-1. Public Access Opinion 19-001 (available at  https://perma.cc/9G5R-YT6Z).

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  • Iowa

    Video recordings may not be subject to disclosure under Iowa Code § 22.7(5).  Disclosure will depend on whether the recording record is considered a report and investigatory. Neer v. State, 2011 Iowa App. LEXIS 154 (Iowa Ct. App. Feb. 23, 2011).  Though police investigatory reports do not lose their confidential status when the investigation ends, Iowa Code § 22.7(5) allows for “an exemption from confidentiality for basic facts about the incident” if the litigant can show that the public good of disclosure outweighs the associated public harm. Mitchell v. City of Cedar Rapids, 926 N.W.2d 222, 232 (Iowa 2019).

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  • Kansas

    As of July 1, 2016, the Kansas Legislature addressed issues related to police video by defining “[e]very audio or video recording made and retained by law enforcement using a body camera or vehicle camera” to be “criminal investigation records” as defined by K.S.A. 45-217(c).  If law enforcement refuses to disclose the footage under K.S.A. 45-221(a)(10) because it is a criminal investigation record, the public can access such video only through a court order.  However, an individual determined to be “an heir at law,” such as a family member, may also have a right to access such video under K.S.A. 45-254.

    Despite the plain language of the law, after Topeka resident Domonique White was killed by police on September 28, 2017, his family was forced to get a court order to determine that Mr. White’s father was “an heir at law” entitled to see the footage.  It took well over two months to produce what should have been turned over promptly.

    As a result, the legislature introduced 2018 SB 361 and 2018 HB 2571.  Of all the proposals in those bills, the legislature adopted, and Governor Jeff Coyler signed, an amendment to K.S.A. 45-254.  As of July 1, 2018, pursuant to 2018 K.S.A. 45-254(b), law enforcement agencies “shall allow the person [requesting access to the footage] to listen to the requested audio recording or to view the requested video recording within 20 days after making the request.”

    In 2021, the Sedgwick County District Court held that the city of Wichita violated KORA when it refused to disclose certain body camera footage on the basis that such footage was not in the “public interest.”  See Memorandum Decision, Wichita Eagle and Beacon Publishing Company v. City of Wichita, 17 CV 2745.  With regard to one of the claims in the case, involving a failure to disclose body camera footage of an officer allegedly involved in a hit-and-run accident, the court found that such event “is a matter of public interest because the community at large has an expectation that police investigations will be conducted fairly and appropriately, especially when a police officer is implicated.”  Id.  The other incident involved in the case, where an Iraqi-American family was wrongly detained at a bank, the court found that “‘The Bank Incident’ is a matter of public interest because it became an issue of public controversy.”  The court ordered disclosure of the videos.

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  • Kentucky

    Generally open, notwithstanding exceptions listed in Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.168.

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  • Louisiana

    “Video or audio recordings generated by law enforcement officer body-worn cameras that are found by the custodian to violate an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy” are exempt; otherwise police video is subject to the Public Records law.  La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 44:3(a)(8).

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  • Maine

    Access to police video records is controlled by the Intelligence and Investigative Record Information Act. 16 M.R.S.A. §§ 801-809.

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  • Michigan

    The Body-Worn Camera Privacy Act of 2017 (“BWCPA”) became effective on January 8, 2018. Section 3(2) of that act, codified at MCL 780.313, provides that, “Except as otherwise provided in section 4 and subject to section 5, a recording recorded by a law enforcement officer with a body-worn camera that is recorded in a private place is exempt from disclosure under the freedom of information act.” Section 3(1) incorporates certain privacy protections of the William Van Regenmorter Crime Victim's Rights Act, MCL 780.758 et seq.

    Subject to those and other applicable FOIA privacy protections, section 4 of the BWCPA, MCL 780.314, permits the following persons to “request a copy of an audio and video recording recorded by a law enforcement officer with a body-worn camera in a private place:

    (a) An individual who is the subject of the audio and video recording.

    (b) An individual whose property has been seized or damaged in relation to a crime to which the audio and video recording is related.

    (c) A parent of an individual who is less than 18 years of age described in subdivision (a) or (b).

    (d) A legal guardian of an individual described in subdivision (a) or (b).

    (e) An attorney who represents an individual described in subdivision (a) or (b).

    Section 5 of the BWCPA, MCL 780.315, provides that body camera footage retained in connection with an ongoing law enforcement investigation is not a public record and is exempt from FOIA, but only to the extent that disclosure would cause one of several listed harms. The same provision clarifies that, as with other public records, body camera footage cannot be obtained through FOIA when the requestor is in active civil litigation with the agency.

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  • New Mexico

    These are public except for the portions of law enforcement records subject to the exemption set forth in NMSA 1978 §14-2-1(D).

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  • North Carolina

    In 2016, the General Assembly enacted G.S. § 132-1.4A to address the proliferation of dashboard and body camera recordings made by law enforcement personnel. The statute makes clear that such recordings are not public records and are not personnel records.

    The statute also lays out the processes to view or obtain a copy of law enforcement recordings. There are two different paths to disclosure – one for individuals whose voice or image appears in the footage and one for individuals whose voice or image does not.

    An individual whose image or voice is in the recording(s) can seek disclosure of the recordings under § 132-1.4A(c), and if denied, ask the court to review the denial.

    A person whose voice or image is not in the recordings (which includes most members of the news media) must petition the court to release the recordings under § 132-1.4A(g).

    A judge hearing petitions for release has an enormous amount of discretion regarding whether to release recordings; how, when, what will be blurred or edited; and other restrictions on release. However, the judge’s ruling must in some way be supported by the record. See In re Custodial Law Enf’t Recording Sought by City of Greensboro, 383 N.C. 261 (2022) (“Because the trial court’s ruling is entirely unsupported by the record, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the City’s motion to modify Restrictions”).

    In addition to any other standard the judge deems relevant, the judge must weigh eight factors in deciding whether to release a portion or all of the requested recordings.

    (1) Release is necessary to advance a compelling public interest.

    (2) The recording contains information that is otherwise confidential or exempt from disclosure or release under State or federal law.

    (3) The person requesting release is seeking to obtain evidence to determine legal issues in a current or potential court proceeding.

    (4) Release would reveal information regarding a person that is of a highly sensitive personal nature.

    (5) Release may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person.

    (6) Release would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.

    (7) Confidentiality is necessary to protect either an active or inactive internal or criminal investigation or potential internal or criminal investigation.

    (8) There is good cause shown to release all portions of a recording.

    In response to this statute, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) initially created a series of forms to guide requests for these recordings, and hundreds of petitions for release of law enforcement recordings were filed across the state using the AOC forms. However, in In re Custodial Law Enf’t Agency Recordings (Pasquotank County), 884 S.E.2d 455 (N.C. Ct. App. 2023), the lower court ruled that the media petitioners could not use the AOC form because the statute required the party or parties seeking release under subsection (g) to file an “action,” and that the AOC form was meant to be used only by individuals who appeared in the recordings under subsection (c). The Court of Appeals agreed that if the legislature had intended an AOC form be used in conjunction with these requests for recordings, it would have specifically instructed as such.

    The Court of Appeals wrote that “our legislature intended two different procedures for individuals seeking release of custodial law enforcement recordings: an expedited petition process for certain enumerated individuals, and an ordinary civil action for all others. We hold that [the trial court] properly dismissed Petitioners’ petition for lack of standing because they failed to ‘file an action’ as required by” the statute.

    As of January 2024, the petitioners have asked the North Carolina Supreme Court to review this decision with no response.

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  • Oklahoma

    Body camera footage and dashcam videos are public records under the Oklahoma Open Records Act subject to few limitations and exceptions. 51 O.S. § 24A.8(A)(9-(10).

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  • Oregon

    On behalf of Eugene Weekly and one of its reporters, RCFP attorneys challenged the Eugene Police Dept’s rejection of a public records request seeking BWC video documenting law enforcement’s response to a man experiencing a mental health crisis. The county medical examiner reviewed the BWC footage & determined that “restraint by law enforcement” contributed to the man’s death. Requester argued that the city failed to balance the public’s interest in accessing the video footage against the interest in withholding it. On Aug. 11, 2021, the Lane County DA ordered the Eugene Police Department to produce the BWC video.

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  • Pennsylvania

    In Pennsylvania, access to body worn camera footage is governed by Act 22, not the RTKL.  See 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 67A01 et seq.  Act 22 permits any member of the public and the press to request video and audio recordings created by law enforcement agencies and further allows a right of appeal in the event access is denied.

    Per section 67A04(a) of Act 22, a law enforcement entity may only deny an Act 22 request if the relevant audio or video footage “contains potential evidence in a criminal matter, information pertaining to an investigation or a matter in which a criminal charge has been filed, confidential information[,] or victim information[,] and the reasonable redaction of the audio or video recording would not safeguard” said evidence or information. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 67A04(a).

    To date, only a handful of cases provide precedent on access to footage under Act 22.  Relevant links are below:

    • https://www.rcfp.org/litigation/thompson-v-cumberland-county/ (where Act 22 case settled and journalist was permitted to go to DA's office to review BWC footage)

    • https://www.rcfp.org/litigation/meko-v-city-of-lancaster/ (following negotiations, DA's office coordinated the release of more than a dozen hours of the requested BWC footage)

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  • Vermont

    A public record includes “any written or recorded information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is produced or acquired in the course of public agency business.” 1 V.S.A. § 317(b).  Thus, police videos would constitute public records under the Public Records Act.  Indeed, the Vermont Supreme Court recently analyzed a public records request to inspect body camera footage from the Burlington Police Department, see Doyle v. City of Burlington Police Dep't, 2019 VT 66, ¶ 2, and the Burlington Police Department’s Department Directive on Body Worn Camera Systems contemplates that requests for copies of videos will be made pursuant to the Public Records Act.  See https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/sites/default/ files/Police/files/

    DD14.1%20-%20Body%20Worn%20Camera%20Systems.pdf for more information.

    Any requests for police video, are, however, subject to the list of exemptions contained in 1 V.S.A. § 317(c), including: 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(5) (records dealing with the detection and investigation of crime) and 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(14) (records relevant to an ongoing litigation in which the public agency is a party of record).

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  • Virginia

    See discussion of criminal investigative files.

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  • Washington

    Police body worn camera recordings are subject to disclosure except to the extent necessary to protect a person’s “right to privacy,” under a modified version of the privacy test discussed above. Certain types of recordings are presumed to be “highly offensive,” including depictions showing the inside of medical facilities and residences, intimate images, minors and the body of a deceased person. RCW 42.56.240(14).  Public records requests for bodycam footage must also specify a particular individual involved in an incident, a specific officer, or the incident’s time and location. Id.

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  • Wisconsin

    Police videos are available for inspection, subject to the balancing test. A Legislative Council Study Committee recommended legislation on body cameras, but it has not passed the legislature.

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