Individuals who request records created by body cameras worn by police may have to pay for the cost of redaction if a bill recently approved by the Committee on Appropriations becomes law this session.
The bill, which would authorize a public agency to charge to redact requested records created by police body-worn equipment, such as body cameras, or dashboard cameras that contain material not authorized to be disclosed under state or federal law.
Under SB 1122, the relevant public agency would not be able to charge for time spent searching for responsive records and the first two hours of labor incurred in redacting the requested record would be provided free. If the person requesting the record is involved in the record request, the parent or guardian of a person involved in the record request, or an attorney representing a person involved in a civil, criminal, or administrative matter, the first four hours of labor costs incurred in redacting the requested record would be provided free.
Any additional labor costs related to redaction can be charged to the requester at a rate not to exceed the hourly wage, not including benefits, of the lowest-paid employee trained to redact the responsive record. Agencies would not be allowed to charge for the services of an attorney hired by the agency to conduct a second review of the requested record or for the services of a digital management services company the agency might use in processing requests.
Fees for the cost of redaction would be capped at one hundred dollars per hour for the length of time involved in a records request. For example, if a requester sought two hours of recording from a police officer’s dash cam, the redaction fee would be capped at two hundred dollars.
Agencies would have to inform requesting parties ahead of time if the estimated fee for redaction exceeded 250 dollars and would be able to request prepayment. If the prepaid fees exceed labor costs incurred during redaction, the agency would be required to reimburse the difference.
Agencies would not be able to charge redaction fees for records that depict an officer-involved shooting, allegations of misconduct by a police officer, an officer involved in a motor vehicle accident, records where an officer is giving a formal statement about the use of force, or records related to a disciplinary investigation of a police officer. Though these types of records would not qualify for fees for redaction under the proposed law, other existing Freedom of Information Act exemptions would still apply.
The law would further require public agencies to maintain original, unredacted copies of requested records that are redacted for production. It would also give the Freedom of Information Commission the ability to order a public agency to refund any payment made if they determine a public agency has violated the provisions listed in the bill.
Additionally, the bill would expand the type of recordings that must be redacted, including those that show the inside of a private residence and those that depict nudity. It would also allow certain recordings that are otherwise confidential, such as those showing medical treatment, to be disclosed to requesters who are either shown or involved in the incident leading to the recording.
If the bill becomes law, it would go into effect on October 1, 2023.
The Committee on Appropriations voted to put the bill on the consent calendar during its May 15 meeting. The bill, which was previously voted out of the Joint Committee on Government Administration and Elections, was referred to the Committee on Appropriations by the Senate on May 11.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, implementation would cost the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) $58,360 in fiscal year 2024 and $72,926 in fiscal year 2025. The bill’s expansion of the number of recordings that must be redacted prior to release through records requests requires DESPP to hire a paralegal specialist beginning October 1, 2023.
The bill also has potential costs to state agencies, including the Capitol Police and the Division of Criminal Justice, that employ “peace officers.” According to the fiscal note, the costs will depend on the number of Freedom of Information Act requests agencies receive, the size of recordings requested, and the capacity of existing staff to review them. Similar potential costs also exist for municipalities and police departments. Depending on the scope and number of requests received, the expanded ability to charge fees for requests has the potential to raise revenue for state and municipal police departments.
Public testimony on the bill was mixed, with the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) and the Connecticut branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposing the bill. The FOIC opposed the addition of new exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act and the new fee structure the bill would implement. The ACLU of Connecticut also opposed the imposition of new fees.
The president of C.O.P.S. Local 550, a police union representing members of the Fairfield Police Department, also opposed the bill on the grounds that it would exempt the first four hours of redaction in some requests from having to pay fees.
The Connecticut Council of Small Towns testified in favor of the bill, citing “substantial costs” associated with redacting some records. The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association also testified in favor of the bill.