Who should have access to footage filmed by police body cameras? Are the police allowed to withhold this footage?
Recently, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton if police were allowed to withhold certain footage, not only from the public, but from civilian supervisors. The question hinges on whether this footage would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of a crime if viewed.
These civilian supervisors could include a city manager, a city council member or a civilian with police oversight.
Why Would Police Need to Withhold Footage?
Lucio asked if civilian supervisors have an inherent right to access of bodycam footage, and if so, are police allowed to say no to requests?
One concern, expressed by Charley Wilkison, head of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, is the potential politicization of certain crimes.
State law dictates that any agency that uses bodycams must create guidelines that explain when and how the public can access the footage. The requester must know the approximate time and exact place that a recording was made and must know the name of at least one person in the recording.
However, the Texas Public Information Act stipulates that if a video’s release could interfere with an investigation or a prosecution, that information can be withheld. And these investigations can take weeks, or months or even years, delaying the release of the video. These restrictions become even more restrictive when the footage shows events leading to either an investigation of an officer’s conduct or shows deadly force by a peace officer.
On the other hand, if the police believe that making a bodycam video public will further some law enforcement purpose, they may do so.
How will Paxton respond? We will know within six months, based on typical timelines for responses from the Attorney General’s office.