As more police departments equip their officers with body-worn cameras, the question of who gets access to that footage—and at what cost—is fast becoming a new frontier in open-records policy, reports the Columbia Journalism Review.
In Florida, with one of the strongest public-records laws in the country, that frontier may soon be shaped by a couple of factors. One is a lawsuit filed by a Sarasota attorney against the local police department over fees for release of video footage. The second is a bill in the state legislature that would create new exemptions in the public records law when it comes to body cameras.
The lawsuit was filed by Michael Barfield, vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, who asked the Sarasota (Fla.) Police Department for the 84 hours of video recorded by officers wearing body cameras during a test of the equipment last year. Though some states grant police broad discretion over when to release video, the Sarasota department recognizes the footage is subject to disclosure under Florida’s records law.
But local officials told Barfield he would have to pay $18,000 for DVD copies of the recordings. As the Sarasota Herald Tribune noted, that amounts to $190 per hour of video. The charge includes $5 for each DVD, far more than blank DVDs cost. But the real cost is in the 458 hours the police department estimates it will take to review the videos and redact anything that might be exempt from the records request—an estimate that works out to more than five hours of time for each hour of footage. Barfield decided to sue.
Meanwhile, a bill currently making its way through the Florida Senate addresses those privacy issues, exempting from the public records law body-cam footage shot inside a private home, as well as anything shot inside a school or hospital or during a medical emergency. The bill also allows someone who is videotaped to get access to the footage.