Videos from dashboard cameras in police vehicles are still presumed to be public records, but the presumption is under attack in Ohio.
An appeals court in Clermont County in southwestern Ohio has backed the State Highway Patrol’s refusal to release a video recording it made of a woman’s drunken-driving arrest in 2011.
The patrol argued, and the court agreed, that the video and an impaired-driver report were part of a 2011 criminal investigation, and therefore exempt from release to the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxing, a Cincinnati watchdog group.
The patrol later released the video, but not until after the woman’s case had been resolved.
While the 12th District Court of Appeals ruling only applies to the eight counties where the court has jurisdiction, it sets a dangerous precedent.
It provides any police agency an excuse not to release videos upon request. So, it is overly broad.
Denying release of a video where an officer’s death occurs, or temporarily withholding one that identifies an uncharged suspect, is one thing. Prohibiting videos under the investigative record exemption umbrella is another.
Police agencies should be among those fighting to keep dash-cam videos accessible. More often than not, the videos capture police officers doing their jobs well and have helped exonerate officers accused of wrongdoing.
They can, for example, provide indisputable proof against claims that an officer used excessive force during a stop.
They can also show a heroic effort of an officer or a good Samaritan.
Interestingly, the patrol features many of its videos on its own YouTube channel.
Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, believes the ruling will greatly limit the ability to assess the performance of law enforcement agencies, and fears it will open up “a vast new opportunity for government secrecy.”
Hetzel said dash-cam videos are akin to incident reports and 911 calls, which are public record, and are a factual recording of routine duties.
Ohio’s Open Records law already allows police to determine what the public gets to know and when it gets to know it. Videos captured from publicly-owned vehicles in public places should continue to be public records, and not be added to the ever-growing list of exemptions.
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