Police body-worn camera access nationwide

FOIA Applicability

  Well over half of states have addressed the question of whether body camera footage is covered under existing FOIA laws (and exemptions) or whether the footage requires a specifically enumerated exception. 

  • Seven states have either blanket prohibitions on accessing police body camera footage under FOIA or conditional prohibitions on access unless certain factors are present, such as firearms discharge or use of force by police.[10]
  • Some states have proposaled explicitly including body camera footage within  the purview of open record laws, but none of these transparency minded approaches have been enacted.[11]
  • Most states that have addressed the FOIA exemption question have suggested that police body camera footage is explicitly excluded in instances where privacy concerns enter the picture, or where footage would interfere with an active investigation.[12]
  • States have proposed a number of specific circumstances where body cam footage would be exempt from disclosure, such as where footage:
    • Relates to law enforcement investigations; or
    • Displays
      • Death or serious injury;
      • Nudity;
      • Minors under the age of 16;
      • Detention for mental health or drug treatment purposes;
      • Personal information;
      • The identity of a sex crime or domestic violence victim; or
      • Confidential informants.

Dashcam Policy

  States treat retention and release of police dashcam videos differently, with some opting for much narrower public access than others.[13] However, most dashcam footage policies, by contrast to proposed body camera policies, treat dashcam footage as covered by general FOIA exemptions.  For example, Nebraska and Oklahoma currently withhold dashcam footage if it constitutes part of an investigation, and proposals in Missouri and Rhode Island would do the same.  Although states appear more comfortable with the public accessing records of dashcams than they are at the present time with public access to the broader range of footage that is collected by police body cameras, policies continue to diverge.