Legal Hotline: Act 22 and Law Enforcement Recordings

Legal Hotline: Act 22 and Law Enforcement Recordings

PNA Legal Hotline

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

A:  No, the records are not subject to public access under the Right to Know Law.  Act 22 of 2017 removed law enforcement audio and video recordings from the Right to Know Law and instituted a parallel, more restrictive means of requesting access that has resulted in little, if any, public access to these records.

Requestors seeking access to audio or video recordings made by law enforcement agencies must file a formal, written request within 60 days of the date the recording was made.  This request must be filed with the law enforcement agency’s RTKL officer although that law does not apply to the recordings themselves.

The request must be hand-delivered or sent via certified mail, and it must include the following information:

  • The date, time and location of the event recorded;
  • A statement describing the requestor’s relationship to the event recorded; and
  • If the recorded incident took place inside a residence, the request must also identify every person present at the time of the recording, unless unknown and not reasonably ascertainable.

The agency has 30 days to respond to the request and may deny requests for various reasons including potential evidence in a criminal matter, the recording contains information pertaining to an investigation or a matter in which a criminal charge has been filed, confidential or victim information appears on the audio or video, and redaction would not safeguard potential evidence.

If an agency denies access or fails to respond within 30 days, the denial or deemed denial may be appealed within 30 days to a court of competent jurisdiction. The Office of Open Records does not have jurisdiction over Act 22 appeals. For local agency denials, the county Court of Common Pleas is the proper venue to bring an Act 22 appeal, for Commonwealth agencies, the appeal would be filed with the Commonwealth Court.  News organizations must retain counsel in order to pursue an Act 22 appeal in court.

The fee for filing an initial Act 22 appeal is $125, plus any fees and costs associated with litigation.  Appeals must include a copy of the written request and any responses, as well as proof of service showing the agency’s RTKL officer was served within 5 days of the appeal being filed.

If the recording was made inside a residence, the appeal must also certify that notice of the appeal was served on each individual present at the time of the recording, and on the owner and occupant of the residence, unless that information is unknown and not reasonably ascertainable.

If an agency grants an Act 22 request, “reasonable” fees may be imposed. The fee schedule is not set by law and fees will differ amongst law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agencies & District Attorneys also have broad discretion under Act 22 to release a recording (with or without a written request), however, in the years since Act 22 was passed, public access and discretionary release has been rare.

Although the Office of Open Records does not have jurisdiction over the Act 22 process, the office has provided helpful advice and a standard request form to assist members of the public seeking access to law enforcement records.

In the wake of nation-wide protests calling for law enforcement reform, Act 22 and its prohibitive public access provisions have come under increased scrutiny.  PNA opposed Act 22’s public access provisions during the legislative process leading up to passage, and we continue to oppose the lack of transparency the law creates. PNA will continue to illustrate the shortcomings of Act 22 and work to improve public access to law enforcement recordings.

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 at (717) 703-3080 with questions.