Is Body Cam Footage from Cops Public Record?

Is Body Cam Footage from Cops Public Record?

Turn on the evening news and you may see a person being arrested. You may not see it because someone taped the incident on their cell phone, but rather because the news media has obtained body cam footage from the local police department. As often as we see this type of footage on the news and floating around the Internet, it’s easy to believe that body cam footage is public record. But is it?

What many people don’t know is that each police department is permitted to set its own guidelines regarding the release of body cam footage. While some provide the footage willingly, others do not release it until a court orders them to do so. Many choose to release the footage in the interest of transparency in today’s climate of perceived police brutality.

Police departments across the nation are outfitting their officers with body cams in order to not only protect citizens, but to protect officers against unfounded accusations. When something goes down, these agencies often provide footage to the media, whether or not it shines a bad light on their officers. In general, police body cam footage is not considered public record. Meaning that if a department does not wish to release footage, they cannot be forced to do so.

How Police Departments Handle Footage

Some agencies, like the Seattle Police Department, are completely transparent. That agency has its own YouTube channel in which body cam footage is uploaded regularly. Even on that channel, however, faces are redacted in an effort to protect privacy. In Oregon, footage is not released unless it benefits public interest. In Oklahoma, all body cam footage is public record but it must have redaction when the footage contains minors, death or nudity.

California, according to some, has dropped the ball in recent weeks. The state had a chance to pass a law that made all body cam fit for public consumption but failed to do so, continuing to leave it up to each individual department to determine whether or not footage will be released. Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, said, in part, “California needs a statewide standard for the disclosure of footage. In order to let the footage speak for itself, we need more time to find the breakthrough in this bill and I will continue to engage stakeholders to find a transparent and equitable solution.”

For now, and into the foreseeable future, police departments will make their own decisions when it comes to body cam footage. Some department will release all footage, others will release some, and still others will not release any. For the most part, Georgia’s law enforcement body cam footage is accessible through the Freedom of Information Act, with only a few exceptions.

If you have been arrested for a crime in Atlanta, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Reach out to our office today to schedule an appointment for a free case evaluation. We will review the details of your arrest and charges, and we will advise you of your legal options. You have rights and we are here to ensure they are protected.

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