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The Courts Crime The Almighty Buck Your Rights Online

Police Department Charging TV News Network $36,000 For Body Cam Footage (arstechnica.com) 186

An anonymous reader writes with news that the NYPD charged a local television station $36k to view police body camera footage. Ars reports: "As body cams continue to flourish in police departments across the nation, an ongoing debate has ensued about how much, if any, of that footage should be made public under state open-access laws. An overlooked twist to that debate, however, has now become front and center: How much should the public have to pay for the footage if the police agree to release it? News network NY1, a Time Warner Cable News operation, was billed $36,000 by the NYPD for roughly 190 hours of footage it requested under the state's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Now the network is suing (PDF) the police department in New York state court, complaining that the price tag is too steep. The network said the bill runs 'counter to both the public policy of openness underlying FOIL, as well as the purported transparency supposedly fostered by the BWC (body worn camera) program itself.'"
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Police Department Charging TV News Network $36,000 For Body Cam Footage

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  • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @06:54PM (#51319287)

    Isn't that Cam footage from tax payer bought cameras worn by city employees who receive their salary from tax funds? How the hell do they justify charging that kind of money?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Isn't that Cam footage from tax payer bought cameras worn by city employees who receive their salary from tax funds? How the hell do they justify charging that kind of money?

      Same way my company charges $160 an hour for me. Video has to be redacted. Privacy laws yo.

      This is a fishing expedition and the media should pay up.

    • Just because they're public employees doesn't mean their cameras are always filming public locations. If they enter a private residence or a bathroom, the press doesn't get access to the videos "just because".
    • And the public cannot charge private enterprises that will use this footage for profit?

      • See what has happened with mug shots, it's turned into almost a blackmail situation.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • And the public cannot charge private enterprises that will use this footage for profit?

        That's implying there's at least $36k worth of material in the footage.

        • Sure, it's a gamble, they need to find 5-10 seconds of somewhat interesting footage for it to pay off. They are taking the risk, and they are the one shifting through the footage, so it is only right that they pay a tiny fraction of what they normally pay for footage and that they are the ones to hit ot big if they find anything interesting.

    • by FrozenGeek ( 1219968 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @10:21PM (#51320043)

      First off, in this case, the cost is just under $200/hr of footage.

      You have to pay someone to retrieve the data and burn it to DVDs. NYPD has roughly 30,000 cops, so it's likely not entirely trivial to track down the correct video. Someone will have to review each hour of the requested footage to ensure that it includes nothing that would violate the privacy or safety of anyone involved in the video. If there's a lot of requests, you'll probably have to hire someone to do this job full time. Otherwise, you're taking a cop away from more useful work.

      I cannot tell you whether $200/hr of footage is fair but I would not be the least bit surprised if it barely covers the costs incurred by the NYPD.

      For what it's worth, and before you ask, there are definitely privacy and safety issues associated with body cam video. Imagine for a moment the home of one of your local TV anchors (say, the cute chick) is robbed. Police respond to her home, review the scene, take her statement, etc. Video from the police cruiser cam might be useful for a stalker to figure out where she lives. If you've any imagination at all, you can easily come up with other scenarios.

      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        Video from the police cruiser cam might be useful for a stalker to figure out where she lives.

        If you're a serious stalker at all, you already know where she lives. You followed her home, or you searched for her on any one of numerous public databases or websites. Or you just request the police report which is usually also part of public record anyway.

      • If it's that onerous to get footage from a particular officer or from a particular day, the problem is with the filing mechanism. It should take seconds to retrieve all the available videos spanning a well-defined set of criteria. "I need all the bodycam footage from these three officers on this day and that day, around 2pm."

        If a report was filed because there was some sort of incident, it should be cross-indexed with the date and time and the officer. So even if you just know the person involved in the rep

    • by jafiwam ( 310805 )

      Isn't that Cam footage from tax payer bought cameras worn by city employees who receive their salary from tax funds? How the hell do they justify charging that kind of money?

      It is.

      Can the tv station demand that a certain street be re-paved?

      Can the tv station expect that traffic lights be installed and timed so they can leave their motorpool in all directions quickly?

      Can the tv station expect to be able to plug into public power sources anywhere and any time they need to set up a bunch of electronic stuff?

      If the answer is no to any of these, then they can justify "charging that kind of money."

  • Freedom of the Press (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @06:58PM (#51319303) Journal
    Often, these police videos don't end up being viewed by the public until a FOIA is launched and pressed in the courtroom, [huffingtonpost.com] unfortunately.

    Thus, access to the videos, at rate not restrictive enough to prevent its distribution, is a requirement fair play cannot do without.

    If a viewing tax restricts the footage from being released, then cameras are worthless except to protect the innocent law enforcement officers.

    • by uncqual ( 836337 )

      No, they are not useless. When a specific event occurs, usually just a few minutes of recording is needed to better understand what happened and, just a few minutes worth need to be cleared for release. This was a broad request for almost 200 hours of video - the fact that such a request is quite expensive to fulfill does not mean that the cameras are 'useless'.

      • No, they are not useless. When a specific event occurs, usually just a few minutes of recording is needed to better understand what happened and, just a few minutes worth need to be cleared for release.

        Clearly, we can trust the police to release just the pertinent pieces of video.

        This was a broad request for almost 200 hours of video - the fact that such a request is quite expensive to fulfill does not mean that the cameras are 'useless'.

        When quite expensive = unreasonable restriction on access, then the government must err on the side of information release to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

        • by uncqual ( 836337 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @08:01PM (#51319507)

          When someone, say "Big Mike" Brown, is shot by police, it's known when and where it happened. Releasing five minutes of video in response to a specific incident once the investigation is done would cost little and would still be extremely useful. One does not have to "trust the police" to release the video. One does have to trust them (or those related to them) to not redact stuff that is relevant but such redaction will be obvious and can be dealt with by the courts if needed.

          Seriously, if you had kids and some pedophile was raping one of them and a cop wearing a body cam came across it, would you want the video of your kid being raped to be on the internet forever because someone "has the right to bodycam footage"? How about video of the body of a loved one who died in your house in a horrible accident?

      • If it is true that the request is expensive, then the NYPD *really* screwed up their media & document archive system, and red to be taken to task for it. It's not like body cams have been around for thirty years and there's legacy VHS tape to deal with. These cameras have been all-digital since day one. Fetching the requested video snippets should have been nothing more than feeding in a .csv file with camera numbers and timestamps into whatever query language the NYPD's media archive uses and writin

        • by uncqual ( 836337 )

          A qualified person has to review every bit of the video and redact as needed.

          When an officer enters your home and has the bodycam on, it's nobody's business what's in your home unless it's part of a criminal investigation (vs. just a fishing expedition by reporter or by a thief casing houses with the help of the police video). If a child rape victim is being interviewed in the field, the audio and video of that interaction should not be made available "just for the asking" (except, as necessary, as part of

    • If a viewing tax restricts the footage from being released, then cameras are worthless except to protect the innocent law enforcement officers.

      The video would also be very useful to a falsely accused defendant, who would be able to subpoena relevant video without paying a fee.

      So to summarize, these people benefit from body cams:
      1. Innocent police officiers
      2. Innocent defendants
      3. Crime victims

      These people are worse off:
      1. Guilty criminals
      2. Crooked cops

      • "The video would also be very useful to a falsely accused defendant, who would be able to subpoena relevant video without paying a fee."

        One thing is asking for footage about an incident one is directly related to. A very different other a company on a for-profit fishing expedition. I don't see why them both should be managed the same.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Viewpoint from e.g. is completely different. We believe that somebody is innocent untill proven guilty. That means that people who are arrested have a right to privacy. Let us not even talk about those who are not arrested.
      And even after people are arrested and convicted, they do have rights.
      So unless it is needed for an investigation, no infor,ation should be given to the public.

      "But that means people could be arrested without a trace?" Yes and that could even happen if all things were public. Perhaps a bi

      • Very interesting, especially the privacy aspect. I think, at the heart of it, our laws and their enforcement were initially intended to be very similar to what you describe. I, for one, would

        Rather have a guilty man walk free than an innocent man sent to prison.

        Perhaps because of the settling of the wild American West (or maybe the American Hollywood western), our law enforcement has evolved into Cowboys bent on vigilante justice or a lone wolf bending the rules for the greater good.

    • If a viewing tax restricts the footage from being released, then cameras are worthless except to protect the innocent law enforcement officers.

      Demanding 190 hours of footage is a fishing expedition. In most cases requesting the video for a known incident, such as police harassment, would be a few hours at most. Maybe the press should restrict requests to relevant video instead of fishing.

  • TV stations are normally AD-revenue funded. 189 bucks can't even get you a second of AIRTIME let alone any production team.

    And besides, if the money funds better police work like better education for the officers (how to handle public incidents better), better material for proper investigations instead of improper funds to get the crimes solved, well - then I'm all for it.

    What worries me though is: where does that place US - your average citizen in this picture? What say do we have in this? Do I get a
    • by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:14PM (#51319353)

      And this here is part of the question around costs. I doubt we are talking about raw dumps of data here. Instead I suspect that someone has to go through every second of video, make sure that there is nothing seen by the camera that shouldn't be seen, ie police data on a computer screen. Then do they go through and blur the faces of uninvolved people, number plates etc? They probably don't need to if the recording was made on a street and there could be no reasonable expectation of privacy, but what about when the footage is in a private premises, particularly a multi-dwelling building such as an apartment.

      Ugh, now that I think about it there are huge amounts of issues around releasing any video that shows anything interesting at all. To the point that I wonder if sealing them with out a court order isn't a better place to start.

      • I think it's a complex thing.

        There's the nominal privacy angle, ie, of showing people or situations in private settings that weren't part of any kind of police action. Then there's the abuse-of-public-access privacy angle, like those web sites that show mug shots unless you pay to take them offline.

        Then there's the bigger questions of whether relentless databasing forever of every possible police interaction with the public and using it to make all kinds of really arbitrary decisions based on it, like HR m

      • Exactly. On the surface, body cams appear to be a simple issue - how many of us have GoPros, or the like? - but when you start to think through the policy issues, the logistics, etc, body cams are by no means trivial to implement. If you implement things without thinking them through, you will likely upset many people and create a PR nightmare. Before you implement, you need to think things through and make sure that your policies are well known. that will help to minimize the complaints (you'll never a
    • "What if something got out that shouldn’t have"

      That's why it costs $200/hr for video, not because of the commercial value of the film. We presume that someone has to reasearch the location of the files, pull the, edit the files to the length requested, and package them. That may take 5 hours or 50 hours - it depends on how many clips there are.

      Except that that's only the very first step. Next, someone has to review them for privacy laws (accused and bystanders) and limitations on any ongoing investig

  • can they try that in court? make the defender pay a fee to have there legal team view it on there own?

    • That is different, the defender's legal team would get access to unredacted footage....

      All material has to be handed over to the defense team so -- no there would be no cost.

      The TV station is just doing a fishing exercise if they are asking for 190 hours of footage and I don't see why the public should be on the hook to make sure that no-ones privacy is being violated. You have to have someone (possibly more than one person)actually watch 190 hours - select out outtakes that should not be released an
  • GOOD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 17, 2016 @07:17PM (#51319365)

    Go ahead and charge them. The media preys upon the misery of others and wants a direct free live feed with 24/7 coverage of cops hassling the public. I can't count the amount of times some traffic cop has pulled me over, given me a full field sobriety test plus breathalyzer despite not having had a drop to drink, and continued to harass me before letting me go. Now imagine I was a public official or celebrity (even worse imagine if I was a republican in a liberal-leaning city) and the TV station had full access to the cop's body cam footage. Despite my innocence it would be plastered ALL OVER TABLOIDS and other sleazy outlets as only the media could to slant and paint it in a bad light.

    No thanks. You charge them out the wazoo NYCPD. Good on you for making journalists actually have to hunt down stories and do their jobs.

  • $36,000? What did they do, print the video, one frame per page?

    • Indeed. I suspect that government relishes the opportunity to finally charge by the hour like one of their subcontractors.
  • Like, with taxes and shit? Bodycam footage should be free, no question. You've paid for the hardware. You're paying the wages of the cops and the admin staff. Why is this even a debate?
  • Recall the First Amendment mentions and protects a profession by name: the press. Thats a right, guaranteed.
    No local finding, act, law, debate, twist gets to take away press freedom.
    US tax payers are paying for the footage and its their bureaucracy and officials using equipment paid for by tax payers.
    The "police" do not get to just internally "agree" to block a FOIA request from the media.
    The body worn camera is a feature to ensure public servants are interacting with the wider public and local, state
  • The FBI maintains databases containing what they call "Criminal Justice Information" (CJI). Police departments access it using "Criminal Justice Information Systems" (CJIS) over a "Criminal Justice Data Network" (CJDN).

    For your state to get access to these things, the state's top law enforcement agency has to enter into an agreement with the FBI. Part of the agreement involves providing access to local police departments, and getting them to agree to follow the same rulebook.

    One of the rules is that "Crim

  • The NYPD.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 )

    Proof that Corruption in the Police is still alive and well in 2016.

    Honestly they are no different than a street gang..

    Well except for one, they have far better funding than a street gang.

    • This neither proves nor disproves corruption. If you have no cost to the requestor, there is nothing to prevent malicious requests aimed at wasting police resources (aka our tax dollars). So having a cost to a request could reasonably be considered good public policy. Of course, it could be used to try and limit legitimate access to data. Finding a balance on this issue is not easy.
  • The Freedom of Information Act does allow a government body to charge for the cost to produce the information requested. This was originally intended to recoup the physical costs of producing photocopies or microfilm. However, since the the footage in question is digitized, how does one come up with a cost of $36,000 to turn it over to the media? I wonder if the prosecuting attorney requested the footage, would the police department had charged the DAs office $36,000? If the answer is no, then neither sho

    • Because NYPD would only provided edited footage and someone had to view all 304 hours to deal with "exempt portions" of the recording.

    • Camera footage that is released to the public for public broadcast has very different than what lawyers get or can request. The privacy of everyone in the video has to be taken into consideration when releasing a video to the media. That requires the video to be reviewed and redacted as required by privacy laws. This takes time and money. Demanding 190 hours is a fishing expedition and the public should not have to pay for it. Video released to lawyers are not redacted so the fee does not apply.

      • That might be true if these were surveillance tapes, but they weren't. They were body cams. There shouldn't be anything to redact as they are recorded in the public. While I agree 190 hours seems like a fishing expedition, charging $168/hour seems a bit excessive, too.

  • by GumphMaster ( 772693 ) on Sunday January 17, 2016 @10:11PM (#51320013)

    Let's ask Time Warner Cable News for 190 hours of specified short segments of their raw video material with perpetual, unfettered rights to republish, for profit, and with no ongoing royalty. If you could get them to to agree the conditions (unlikely) then I bet they would charge way more than $36k for the privilege. Somehow though they expect the State to do just that without even cost recovery.

    • Yes, lets treat private companies exactly the same as publically funded civil servants.

      If the po-po can charge for their footage like a corporation, then I guess a corporation can arrest, lay charges, and enjoy other benefits reserved to police services.

      Next up, The Shiawase Decision: Good Idea, or Bad Idea?

  • Haven't we already chucked the 4th amendment out the window? Might as well make the best of it and mandate that all footage be available to the public after 30 days, no exceptions. None of this $200/hr crap.

    Bonus: regular people get body cams, too, if they want them.
    • And the police informant who appears on a police body cam and gets killed because of it is not a problem?

  • For me the idea is that if you are somehow implicated in a situation with the law enforcement, you can have evidence of what actually happened.
    Not a way for journalists to get free footage so they can exploit it. $200/h is peanuts for them, $200 is what a friend got paid for a few minutes of crappy cell phone footage of a skilift that stalled for a couple of hours.

    I'd like the result of the judgment to be : here, have your footage for free, CC BY-NC-SA licensed. But I doubt it will be the outcome.

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