Washington Approves Policy On Body-Worn Camera Footage

2 December 2015

The Washington, D.C., City Council Dec. 1 approved a policy for the release of video from cameras worn by police officers.

The policy covers release of body worn camera (BWC) footage outside the FOIA process in the following situations:

  • To the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of Police Complaints;
  • To academic researchers who have signed confidentiality agreements to conduct studies using BWC footage;
  • To investigatory agencies, such as the Office of the Inspector General and the D.C. Auditor;
  • On a case-by-case basis in matters of great public interest, the Mayor, in consultation with prosecutors and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), can release unredacted BWC footage to the media and public (e.g., in officer-involved shootings, cases where MPD officers used significant force, or assaults on an officer that required hospitalization); and
  • The subject of a BWC recording can go to a police station to view the unredacted BWC footage of their interaction – at no cost to the individual – if there are no pending criminal charges against either the subject or an involved MPD officer.

The subject of a BWC recording will be able to file a FOIA request for a copy of their footage, which may require redactions to protect the privacy rights of others on the footage, and would be provided – again at no cost to the individual – by MPD. Additionally, a defendant in a criminal investigation or an officer being investigated for misconduct would have access to the BWC recording during the normal discovery process.

No Release of Residential Footage 

No BWC footage will be released pursuant to a FOIA request if it was recorded inside a personal residence or is related to an incident involving domestic violence, sex assault, or stalking.

BWC footage recorded entirely in public space will still involve minimal redactions, which increases transparency and helps minimize costs borne by government for work associated with redaction.

The Council did not go along with a few of the mayor’s proposal, such as requiring requesters to identify with specificity the location, date, and approximate time of the incident or event that may have been recorded.

While the DC FOIA requires that an agency respond to a request within 15 days with the possibility of a 10 day extension where unusual circumstances exist, the MPD would have 25 days to respond to a request for BWC video, with an extra 15 days where there is a need to review “a voluminous amount of separate and distinct video footage which are demanded in a single request or to review a single lengthy video recording demanded in a request” and where MPD cannot procure a vendor to perform the redactions  within the original 45 days.

Also dropped was a proposed exemption for footage taken in a place “where a person would have a heightened expectation of privacy.”

The mayor proposed exempting footage from FOIA when “related to an incident involving domestic violence, stalking, sexual assaults or assaults.” Opponents argued that Exemption 2 adequately protects personal privacy and that the word “assaults” is too broad. The Council dropped the word “assaults.”

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