Body, patrol cam footage are both public record

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The following questions were submitted by The Times-Mail (Bedford) and The News-Sun (Kendallville)

Either Open Door Law or Public Notice Advertising Law might apply to meeting

Q: I attended a meeting of the county council where they approved minutes of a special session neither I nor any of my coworkers in Bedford had received notice. I called the council president, who said that it was a mistake, and I believe it was. I wrote in a story that the Times-Mail did not receive notice and therefore was not in attendance. Because the statute says governing bodies must send notice to news media, I wrote that not sending the notice was a direct violation of the Open Door Law. This morning, I received an email from the county auditor showing a notice was sent to a classifieds employee in Bloomington, who puts together the classifieds for the Hoosier Times papers (Bedford, Bloomington, Martinsville and Spencer). The notice in the classifieds section June 30, though it was not sent to the newsroom internally.

My question is if sending the notice only to classifieds still meets the definition of sending it to news media, and therefore they did not violate the law and I made an egregious error. 

A: I’m not sure what the special meeting was for, which can make a difference, but generally meetings of government bodies must give notice to newspapers under the Open Door Law; however, there are certain events that require a governing body to give notice under the Public Notice Advertising Law (IC 5-3-1).

If that’s the case, the government unit isn’t also required to give the Open Door Law Notice. The published public notice serves as the notice to the community and the newspaper.

So, the question for you is to look at the copy of the notice placed in the Bedford paper to determine if the public notice advertisement was required. 

Note: This situation is why I always recommend that editors/reporters read the public notice advertisements published in their newspaper. They should consider a process where the advertising staff forwards public notices received to the newsroom. This would give the news staff the opportunity to write a story based on the notice the day it is published. Too often the public notice advertisements are a vein of good stories that newsrooms fail to mine.

Body, patrol cam footage are both public record

There is controversy surrounding body cams, and the line between privacy and the right to public knowledge is often blurred in these cases. In several instances, body cam footage may pop up on social media or may be featured in an online article. I did look at the Handbook on Indiana’s Public Access Laws, I believe body cam footage is considered a public record. However, I thought I’d reach out to the expert and see if you would be willing to answer a few additional questions for me:

Q: 1.) Are both body cam and patrol cam footage public record? 

A: Yes. The video footage from police body cameras or cameras mounted in their patrol cars fits the definition of a public record under the state’s Access to Public Records Act (I.C. 5-14-3). That doesn’t mean the footage will always be available for inspection and copying. The Indiana legislature during its 2016 session put some restrictions on what may be revealed and provisions that may allow for footage to be kept confidential.

Q: 2.) Is all footage public record, and does the entire footage have to be released? Is there a time stipulation surrounding the footage: that a video must be released X days after the occurrence, or that the public cannot access footage for X number of days?

A: All of the video is a public record, but not everything will be seen. There are certain things that the law enforcement agency will be required to obscure. (see later answer). There isn’t a special provision in the Access to Public Records Act for police camera footage as to a timeframe for its release to the public. The standard under APRA is “reasonable” time. This could be influenced by factors such as the editing and obscuring system in place, whether the prosecutor has intervened in the decision to release or not release the requested video, a request by a detective to hold the tape a day or so to give him/her time to interview witnesses prior to broadcast or Internet posting of the video by the media, etc.

Q: 3.) Is there any instance in which a public request for body cam footage requested  may be rightfully denied? 

A: While an individual depicted in the video or victim of the crime under investigation or property owner where footage taken have a right to see the video, they don’t have a right to a copy. And certain faces may be obscured before they can view it, such as an undercover officer or police informant. For anyone else, the police agency can deny access to the video if it determines that release would:

• Create a significant risk of substantial harm to any person or the public;

• Likely interfere with a person’s ability to have a fair trial by creating prejudice or bias;

• Affect an ongoing investigation; or

• Not serve the public interest.

Even if the video is released, the police will obscure depictions of a person’s death or dead body, acts of severe violence that result in serious injury, nudity, juveniles; and possibly crime victims and crime witnesses.

Q: 4.) If a victim or witness who appears in the footage wishes to be kept anonymous, is there anything they can do to keep someone from accessing that video? 

A: They may not be able to block the video release, but probably can convince the police to obscure their identity.

Send your questions to Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, skey@hspa.com