The California public will have a greater right to access police body camera footage, and any other audio or video recording acquired by any police agency or state prosecution office, under the Public Records Act with the passage of Assembly Bill 748. The law mandates that audio and visual recordings of “critical incidents” resulting in either the discharge of a firearm by law enforcement or in death or great bodily injury to a person from the use of force by law enforcement are to be made publicly available under the PRA within 45 days of the incident, with limited exceptions. Approved by Gov. Jerry Brown late last month, AB 748 goes into effect July 1.
Under existing law, the public is entitled to certain information contained within complaints and investigations of crimes, although public agencies may otherwise withhold material that would endanger either the success of an ongoing criminal investigation or the safety of people involved in that investigation. Under AB 748, recordings acquired by law enforcement and prosecutors must generally be disclosed in response to a PRA request within 45 days of the “critical incident” or the date the public agency reasonably should have known it occurred.
A public agency may delay disclosure of the recording for between 45 days and 1 year during an active criminal or administrative investigation, but only if disclosure would “substantially interfere” with that ongoing investigation. Examples of such interference include endangering a witness’ or confidential source’s safety. After 1 year following the critical incident, a public agency may withhold the audio or visual recording only if the agency demonstrates, by clear and convincing evidence, that disclosure would still substantially interfere with an ongoing investigation. Under AB 748, the public agency is required to reassess the withholding of that recording and notify the PRA requester every 30 days. Any time a public agency withholds a recording on that criteria, the requester must be notified in writing.
Once the specific basis for withholding the recording of a critical incident is resolved, it must be disclosed. However, if a public agency demonstrates that the reasonable expectation of privacy for individuals depicted in the recording outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure, the public agency must use “redaction technology, including blurring or distorting images or audio” to protect those privacy interests prior to that recording’s disclosure. If the public agency demonstrates that the reasonable expectation of privacy cannot be adequately protected by redaction, the public agency may withhold the recording. However, a redacted or unredacted copy of that recording must be made promptly available to any person (or designated representative) whose privacy interest is protected by public nondisclosure. AB 748 does not apply to peace officers employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.