PA to Exempt Police Recordings from Public-Records Law

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Pennsylvania is poised to set a policy exempting police audio and video recordings from its public-records law and giving police departments broad discretion over when to refuse requests from people for copies of them, reports the Associated Press. Gov. Tom Wolf said he would sign a bill that cleared its last legislative hurdle yesterday, passing the Senate without debate, 49-1. The bill covers all audio and video recordings by officers, including those from body cameras and dashboard cameras.

Law enforcement organizations support the bill, which also clears legal hurdles for police departments to expand the use of body cameras. The bill was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says it will be nearly impossible for the public to obtain police video. A Wolf spokesman said the governor would prefer a law that allows more transparency in the release of police video, but that he believed the bill is a good first step toward encouraging police departments to use body cameras to increase accountability without concerns over violating state law. The bill would add Pennsylvania to a growing list of states that are setting statewide policy over the collection of audio and video by officers. Every state allows certain exemptions to deny the public release of a video, says the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, although some states give the video the presumption of a public record.

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