Governor Wolf has said he believes that body cameras help prevent confrontations, preserve evidence, and strengthen police accountability. Last summer, the Governor signed into law a new Act that provided for a federal grant to fund a Pennsylvania State Police pilot program of body-worn cameras. Act 22 governs police body camera recordings with regards to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law (RTKL). Part of Act 22 deals also with other types of recordings, such as those made in correctional facilities, but of particular significance is a section that broadens the scope of recordings now considered exempt from disclosure in RTKL requests.
The new legislation stipulates that requests for law enforcement audio or visual recordings must be made in writing within 60 days from the date the recording was made. The date, time, and location of the recorded incident must be specified along with the relationship of the requester to the incident that is the subject of the recording. Within reason, the request must also name everyone who was present at the time of the recording if the incident occurred inside a residence unless they are not known to the requester.
Under Act 22, if an audio or visual recording contains either potential evidence in a criminal matter, or information that pertains to an investigation or matter where criminal charges have been filed, it is now exempt from RTKL requests. However, agencies are still required to review recordings to assess whether protected information can be redacted. In cases where this is possible, then the agency must provide a redacted version of the recording to the party who requested it. A denial of a request for recordings must be written and state “that reasonable redaction of the audio recording will not safeguard potential evidence, information pertaining to an investigation, confidential information or victim information.”
Act 22 also provides for a new procedure to appeal the denial of a request. Appeals of denials must be submitted to the court of common pleas that has jurisdiction. The recording in question must be preserved by the agency that issues the denial until the expiration of the time period of judicial review. Law enforcement agencies have the right to establish reasonable fees to cover the cost of providing audio and visual recordings. The party that requests the recording must pay the fee when the recording is disclosed.
Pennsylvania municipalities and their law enforcement agencies should be sure they are aware of the new protocols outlined in Act 22 so that they are in compliance with any RTKL recording requests.