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Release of police body-cam video policies varies between agencies

While some argue that police body camera video is clearly a public record subject to disclosure under open records statutes, in practice, agencies hold a hodgepodge of policies and timelines regarding its release.

Police body-cam video is considered ‘the wild west of open records requests’ by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, an organization that supports news media and protects First Amendment rights.

Although there should be “little argument that body-cam videos are public records under most open records laws” in practice, municipalities and agencies have policies regarding release of footage.

For example, the Los Angeles previously refused to release such footage, but recently reversed that rule. Here are some local agencies’ policies:

Sacramento Police Department

Body-worn camera video is only released or publicly disseminated with the "express written consent of the police chief or designee unless otherwise required by federal or state law,” according to department policy.

However, Sacramento City Council requires release of "all video associated with an officer involved shooting, in-custody death or complaint reported to the Office of Public Safety Accountability" within 30 days. Unless its release would jeopardize an investigation or "endanger involved parties". Victims’ families will have the chance to see the video before its public release.

If the video is not released within 30 days, the chief must provide reasons and get a waiver from the council.

Stockton Police Department:

Release of footage to the media or other outside agencies is at the chief’s discretion, and should be done within 10 days of the incident or request.

According to the Stockton PD policy, the chief bases his decision to release video in a case on various criteria, including:

  • The nature and severity of the incident;
  • Whether it took place in a public or private space; input from the subject of the use of force, their relatives or witnesses;
  • Protection of juveniles or others whose privacy might be infringed;
  • Whether releasing the footage would violate state laws prohibiting the release of confidential information;
  • Whether its release would ‘help build public trust by facilitating transparency”
  • Whether its release could interfere with an open investigation or affect prosecution in a criminal matter.

West Sacramento Police Department

The West Sacramento Police Department doesn't designate a specific timeframe for the release of police body cam video.

The final determination of whether to release rests with the city manager, and is based on criteria including personal privacy rights, sixth amendment due process for all potentially accused parties, public safety consideration, the need to protect witnesses, possible influence on jury pools and whether release could affect an ongoing investigation.