Firm Attorneys Debate Over Public Access to Police Body-Camera Video Footage
The demand for public access to police body-camera footage has significantly increased due to multiple police encounters with the public resulting in the death of the individuals involved. As the use of body cameras increases across law enforcement agencies, it is important to understand the issues related to public access to such footage. Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP attorneys Margaret Christensen and Jessica Whelan discussed the issues surrounding public access to police body-cam footage in the Indiana Lawyer recently.
In some cases, police may willingly release footage upon the conclusion of an investigation when requested by the public. In other cases, the police may not release body-cam footage quite so willingly. In these situations, Whelan and Christensen explain, it may be necessary to file a request for access under state open record laws. Although all 50 states have open records laws (state law corollaries to the federal Freedom of Information Act), they all also contain exemptions which restrict access to public records. In Indiana, for example, the exemption list includes investigatory records, which are defined as “information compiled in the course of an investigation of a crime.” In cases in which the investigatory records exemption is invoked, the burden is on the public agency denying access to the public record.
As a result of public demand and national media attention, law enforcement agencies across the country are now requiring officers to wear body cameras. This relatively new policy brings about many issues regarding public access to body-cam footage. Although states have open records laws, some argue that since the footage is routine, it should not be exempt under the investigatory exemption.
Many state legislatures, including Indiana, are currently working to clarify the issues revolving around public access to body-cam footage. “As issues are studied, laws are passed, and case law is developed, we will gain a clearer understanding of the rights of the public and the responsibilities of the government,” they said in their column. “Until then, it is important to be aware of the issues surrounding requests for body-cam footage and keep abreast of developments in the law.”