Legal Hotline: Police video

  • Dec 10, 2015

Melissa Melewsky

Q:  Are police dash camera videos public records under the Right to  Know Law?

In Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove, 119 A.3d 1102 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2015), the Commonwealth Court ruled that state police dash camera video was presumptively public under the Right to Know Law.  The state police denied a request for dash camera video, which is recorded any time a trooper operates a police vehicle’s emergency lights, citing the criminal investigation exemption of the Right to Know Law and the Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §9101, et seq.).

The Court disagreed, finding that CHRIA and the criminal investigation exception of the Right to Know Law do not allow blanket denials under the law.  The Court noted that “as documentation of law enforcement officers’ conduct in carrying out their duties, MVRs are records at the core to the RTKL’s purpose of enabling the public to scrutinize the actions of public officials, and make public officials accountable for their actions.”  The decision requires police agencies to review police dash camera video in response to RTKL requests and release all information that is not subject to redaction.

Further, and although the appellate courts have not yet addressed the issue, the logic espoused in the Grove decision should be applicable to other police video that documents officer interaction with the public, such as police body camera video. 

There is no state law that requires police agencies to equip officers or police vehicles with video equipment, but if they do, the resulting videos are subject to the presumption of access.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please consult your organization’s private attorney or the PNA Legal Hotline with questions.

 

 

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