A&A: How long are routine County surveillance records archived?

Q: I have been fighting a speeding ticket for over the past year. After an initial failed CPRA request, I was able to retrieve dash-cam footage of the incident.

However, upon review the County sent me footage from the wrong incident. The data that indicates the date and time of the footage was left out, perhaps intentionally. I am still attempting to retrieve the proper footage to pursue my case.

Do you know how long California Counties archive records from police dash-cam footage? How would I go about pursuing this information?

A: Under the California 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. Public records include records prepared, owned, used or retained by an agency or Board.

The Public Records Act is not a records retention act, and is therefore silent on this front.  There are several other statutes that govern various agencies’ duty to retain records.

With respect to City recordings:

Government Code section 34090.6 requires: “the head of a department of a city or city and county, after one year, may destroy recordings of routine video monitoring…This destruction shall be approved by the legislative body and the written consent of the agency attorney shall be obtained. In the event that the recordings are evidence in any claim filed or any pending litigation, they shall be preserved until pending litigation is resolved.”  Cal. Gov’t Code § 34090.6(a).

“‘[R]outine video monitoring’ means video recording by a video or electronic imaging system designed to record the regular and ongoing operations of the departments described in subdivision (a), including mobile in-car video systems, jail observation and monitoring systems, and building security recording systems.”  Cal. Gov’t Code § 34090.6(c); See Rainwater v. McGinniss, No. CIV S-10-1727 GGH P, 2011 WL 2531198, at *3 (E.D. Cal. June 23, 2011) (video recordings in jail observation and monitoring systems may be destroyed after one year).  A party to pending litigation must provide actual notice that tape preservation is desired.  Fowler v. Superior Court, 162 Cal. App. 3d 215, 219 (1984).

Government Code section 26202.6, governing the miscellaneous powers of County Boards of Supervisors, has a nearly identical provision which states: “the head of a department of a county, after one year, may destroy recordings of routine video monitoring…” Cal. Gov’t Code § 26202.6(a).

A dash-cam may fall into the category of routine video monitoring as a mobile in-car video systems, subject to destruction after a year.  However, if footage is evidence in a claim or pending litigation (and the agency has actual notice of pending litigation), it should be preserved.  I invite you to review the government code regarding destruction of City Records

Additionally, you should have been able to get the video through discovery before the trial.  However, as it is now on appeal, it may be too late to go that route.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.