NYPD Tells Public Record Requester It Will Cost $36,000 To Process A 'Sampling' Of Body Camera Footage

from the ransomware dept

The NYPD is once again in the middle of a transparency/accountability controversy. The law enforcement agency has achieved the dubious distinction of being more difficult to obtain public records from than federal three-letter agencies like the CIA and NSA. The latest news does nothing to improve its reputation.

Some of this is due to its in-house classification system, which allows it to arbitrarily declare potentially-responsive documents “secret” — something it does quite often with no apparent oversight. Some of it is due to the department’s general antagonism towards transparency and openness, which keeps documents not marked secret out of the public’s hands just because. Its steadfast belief that the only entity truly entitled to information is the NYPD has seen this attitude carried over to discovery requests in civil lawsuits and criminal cases, much to the general disgruntlement of presiding judges.

With the NYPD’s court-ordered body camera program going into effect, the recorded footage is the latest target of FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests. TV station NY1 asked for a “sampling” of body-worn camera footage from five weeks of recording. In return, the NYPD has given it nothing but delays… and a high-dollar estimate.

When the NYPD first rolled out its body camera pilot program, the idea was increased transparency and accountability. But last spring when NY1 requested five weeks worth of footage under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, known as FOIL, the NYPD said it would cost NY1 $36,000 so that an officer could first review and edit the video, to address privacy and other concerns.

After a couple rounds of appeals, the TV station has taken the next step. It sued the NYPD, citing a number of FOIL violations.

The NYPD denied NY1’s request for unedited footage without specifying what material it plans to redact, how much material will be excluded from disclosure, or how the redaction will be performed. Instead, Respondents suggested that they may provide with edited footage, but only on the condition that remit $36,000.00, the alleged cost to the NYPD of performing its unidentified redactions.

FOIL does not permit public records to be withheld absent a full explanation of the materials that are exempt from disclosure. FOIL also does not permit agencies to levy any charge for review and redaction of records (let alone a $36,000.00 charge). As a result, the response to NY1’s request violates FOIL.

Indeed, the response to NY1’s request for footage runs counter to both the public policy of openness underlying FOIL, as well as the purported transparency supposedly fostered by the BWC program itself.

Redacting footage isn’t necessarily inexpensive, but the NYPD has provided no justification for the $36,000 fee. The FOIL request doesn’t ask for anything more than a “sampling” of the recorded footage. The NYPD responses don’t specify whether the agency considers this to be every minute of footage recorded during those time periods, or something considerably more limited.

It is true that the footage will have to be redacted, at least in part. But without further information, the “reasonableness” of the NYPD’s fee demand can’t be assessed. This FOIL paywall runs contrary to the law’s purpose, as well as the presumption of disclosure stressed in comments made by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who lauded the new body-worn camera program as a step forward in transparency and accountability. If the footage remains solely in the possession of the NYPD, there will be no additional transparency or accountability.

On the other hand, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton seems to feel the state’s public record law only applies to other government agencies. The NYPD currently ranks at the bottom of the list for city agency FOIL responsiveness. That seems unlikely to change if this is how the department responds to requests for footage.

“We have never released 911 calls, and video recorded by these officers, I think, would be under the same protection of not being released, even to FOIL requests,” said Police Commissioner William Bratton.

Unfortunately, this response from the NYPD — despite effectively pricing NY1 out of the market for these public records — directly contradicts the commissioner’s beliefs. Obviously, the NYPD FOIL team feels these documents are responsive to public records requests. However, it’s more than willing to do whatever it takes to ensure this responsiveness remains in the realm of the theoretical.

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Comments on “NYPD Tells Public Record Requester It Will Cost $36,000 To Process A 'Sampling' Of Body Camera Footage”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The trick is to price the costs high enough so that the requester is fully aware of how much disdain you have for them and the very idea that you might be accountable to anyone, while still keeping it in the range where you can at least semi-honestly argue that it’s ‘reasonable’ should they take the matter to court. Several million would certainly accomplish the first, but it might be a little too obvious with regards to the second.

Ian says:

They asked for more than a "sampling"...

” The FOIL request doesn’t ask for anything more than a “sampling” of the recorded footage. “

So I had read about this story a week or two ago and your version did not sound like the article I read so I did some googling and sure enough my memory was right for once. They requested 180 hours of footage, which means that they need someone to review all 180 hours of footage to make sure no private information is released. Everyone on here hates when government agencies get our personal data/information, why would you be ok with the police handing over 180 hours of footage that will have all kinds of personal data?

$36,000 is a bit too much and they need to publish a reasonable rate as to how much video requests actually cost, but don’t pretend that 180 hours is a “sample request”

“NY1 is suing the NYPD over access to 190 hours of footage from the body-camera pilot program”

Ian says:

Re: Re: They asked for more than a "sampling"...

I agree that the money they were asking for was way to high. But don’t confuse fulfilling a request from a court with a request to a news agency that will profit from the video (which I’m ok with being a capitalist). But hey lets just raise the taxes to pay for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They asked for more than a "sampling"...

…they need someone to review all 180 hours of footage to make sure no private information is released…

What private information is being filmed? I can understand walking into a private residence creates privacy concerns. Walking into a business? Not so private. Traffic stops? Not very private, and one’s license plate is (or should be) viewable by all.

Now if these recorders are on all the time they will unnecessarily record activity such as officer’s breaks and that I can see the need for editing. But the fee requested does seem excessive. The department needs to review the specifications for their equipment to eliminate unnecessary recording so such reviews with excessive pricing won’t be needed again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They asked for more than a "sampling"...

The article said 5 weeks of footage so I was actually thinking it was 200 hours. Either way that isn’t an excuse. I am currently going through a records request and while it isn’t video, I still have to sift through 30GB of data. Sure, I have systems in place to manage a lot of it but it still takes quite a bit of time. By law, we can’t charge for releasing that information. We can only charge for any materials it took to complete the request.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: They asked for more than a "sampling"...

don’t pretend that 180 hours is a “sample request”

That’s around 1-2% if the recorders are on for 40 hours a week for five weeks on 54 officers. I would say that’s not just a sample but a very small sample. If they can’t (won’t) handle requests like this reasonably, what is going to happen when there are thousands of cameras?

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: They asked for more than a "sampling"...

but don’t pretend that 180 hours is a “sample request”

Hmm, let’s see.

There are 168 hours in a week, so 5 weeks is 168×5 = 840 hours.

The NYPD has about 35k cops. I don’t know what % of the cops (assuming it’s not every cop) who wears body cams. But let’s take a really lowball guesstimate. Say that on average at any 1 time there are 100 cops wearing body-cams.

So that’s:


hours recorded.

180 hours of 84,000 is 0.21% of the total footage.

0.21% of total recorded footage fits my definition of “a sampling”.

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