After a drawn out legal battle over access to police car dashcam videos between TV station KOMO and the Seattle Police Department, the local news source received a favorable opinion from the Washington State Supreme Court. The court concluded the police should have released videos in response to two public records requests made by KOMO reporter Tracy Vedder.
KOMO sued for access when the Department of Justice was investigating the Seattle Police Department for use of excessive force.
“We’re ecstatic about this win, not just for KOMO but for all media across Washington and quite frankly for the citizens of our state,” KOMO news director Holly Gauntt said to TVSpy in an article. “It was blatantly unfair and unethical for the police department to try and keep potentially incriminating videos out of the public’s view.”
“Honestly, it’s our obligation to hold public officials and entities accountable and to advocate for our viewers. I believe we’ve really succeeded in doing that and it feels great,” she added.
But not everyone is winning the access battle for access to dashcam videos. Jay Zager, a former Florida police officer now working as a defense expert witness in drunk driving cases around the country sees inconsistencies in the law. Last summer he told the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that there is “no continuity throughout the U.S.” on the right to view dash-cam videos.
Courts in Oklahoma and Utah have found dashcam videos to be public records. Vermont adjusted its law to make clear that dashcam videos were not exempt as investigatory records, though some other exemptions may sometimes apply. Meanwhile, Florida amended its public records law in 2011 to exempt any videos that show a person dying.
In addition to formal changes to the public records laws, police departments in Arizona have released dashcam videos in response to public records requests, but their peers in New Mexico have not consistently done so, according to last year’s News Media and the Law story.
Related Reporters Committee resources: