HARTFORD — Police are asking lawmakers to let them charge fees to respond to requests for body and dashboard camera footage — which they said is a time-consuming task.
Groton Police Chief LJ Fusaro said the statewide implementation of body-worn and vehicle cameras — required for all police since July 2022 — has been a positive for police, providing transparency for the public, and “accurate and independent” evidence for officers.
But unlike written records that police can charge fees for when members of the public request them, Fusaro said there’s no way for police departments to recover the cost of having members of their limited staff spend “countless hours reviewing and redacting” videos requested by the public.
“A simple video that is short in duration with little or no redactions may take an hour or two for staff to review, redact and reproduce onto a disk with thumb drive and provide it to a requester,” said Fusaro, who is also vice chair of the Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Association. “On the other hand, an incident that has multiple recordings, maybe from several officers and contains images that we’re required to redact may take up to 16 or 20 hours or more of staff time in order for it to be suitable for release.”
A bill being considered in the Government Administrations and Elections Committee would allow departments to charge a fee for providing video requested by a member of the public. It would cap the fee at the rate of the lowest-paid member of the department who could review the video spending the time to review and redact, or at $100 per hour of footage if that’s less.
Colleen Murphy, executive director of the Freedom of Information Commission, told lawmakers during a public hearing Monday that the commission has been working with the police chiefs on the bill, but concerns include establishing a clear cap on fees, and clear limits on when fees could be charged. The bill would not allow a department to charge fees for a video where an officer is involved in a shooting, crash or alleged misconduct.
Murphy said she also had concerns about another section of the bill that would expand what can be redacted from the videos. Currently, police don’t have to disclose video for a range of reasons, including footage showing minors or victims of domestic violence. The bill would allow police to redact footage that shows the inside of someone’s residence, or shows someone “in a state of undress or nudity.”
In written testimony, Murphy said lawmakers need to carefully consider how those exemptions would be interpreted. There may be footage that these requirements exempt from being released, but someone still has a “legitimate interest” in accessing, she said.
“For instance, this could be true if the recording at a private residence captures a crime in progress, or the officer is at the private residence as part of an active investigation or to execute a search warrant,” Murphy wrote.
Raymond Quiles, president of C.O.P.S. Local 550, representing members of the Fairfield Police Department, said their department can’t dedicate someone full-time to respond to freedom of information requests, and it gives officers a “new and rapidly expanding workload” in addition to their regular duties.
Quiles said in written testimony that the exemptions when fees couldn’t be charged go too far, and don’t adequately compensate for the time spent on reviewing footage. The bill would not allow departments to charge fees for the first four hours of work when a request comes from an involved party, or their guardian or representative — which Quiles said makes up the majority of requests. It also wouldn’t allow departments to charge for the first two hours of work for any request.
“Under this bill, a trained officer could hypothetically work four hours for one request, and then another four hours on a second request which would equate to an entire shift without any reimbursement from the requestor,” Quiles wrote.
Fusaro said that Groton hired a civilian staff member to work almost exclusively on responding to video requests. While larger departments can hire staff specifically to review footage, smaller departments may have someone on the patrol handle it.
“There has to be some compensation for that time,” Fusaro said. “Not making it prohibitive, but making it reasonable.”