1st Amendment News

A&A:City Surveillance Cameras and Public Records Law

Q: Are city-owned and operated surveillance camera recordings of public areas subject to disclosure in accordance with the California Public Records Law?

A: Under the Public Records Act, public records — which include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics,” Gov’t Code section 6252(e) — are presumed to be open to the public and must be disclosed unless a specific provision of the Act or other law exempts them from disclosure.  “Writing” includes not only writings in the traditional sense, but “every other means of recording upon any tangible thing any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored.”  Gov’t Code section 6252(g).  Thus, it appears that surveillance camera recordings would be covered under the Act:

“The Act contains numerous exemptions, including certain types of police records, specifically: [r]ecords of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of, the office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, the California Emergency Management Agency, and any family:state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes.
Gov’t Code section 6254(f).”

It is unclear from your email whether these surveillance cameras are maintained by the city’s police department or the city itself.  If they are not “records of intelligence information or security procedures of” the police department, but rather tapes that are maintained by some other city agency, then it would seem that you should have access to the video recordings regardless of their purpose.  If they are maintained by the city police department, you should still have access to any portions of those videotapes that were not specifically created for or used as part of an investigation.  See Williams ; . Sup. Ct., 5 Cal. 4th 337, 356 (1993). In other words, the recordings should only be exempt if there is a “concrete and definite prospect” of actual enforcement proceedings, i.e., the tapes contain footage showing a crime in progress that will be used as part of a police investigation. Id.

More information about the Public Records Act, including sample request letters, may be found at the First Amendment Coalition’s website, locatedon this website, here: Access to Records.

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1 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. master casinos
    March 10, 2010 at 5:36 am #

    If they are maintained city police department, you should still have access to any portions of those videotapes that videotapes will be perform by police they have maintained by us.

  2. master casinos
    March 10, 2010 at 5:36 am #

    If they are maintained city police department, you should still have access to any portions of those videotapes that videotapes will be perform by police they have maintained by us.