A new law may impact the obligations of schools, School Resource Officers, and law enforcement agencies, in general, in responding to a request for dash cam or body cam recordings. HB 425, which added new exceptions to the R.C. 149.43 definition of public records, becomes law on April 8, 2019. Under this new provision, portions of a body worn camera (BWC) or dashboard recording are not included in the definition of a public record. Those exceptions include:
•The image or identity of a child, or information that could lead to the identification of a child, who is the primary subject of recording, if police know or have reason to know the subject is a child.
•The death of a person or images of a dead body, unless the death was caused by a police officer or if the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate grants consent to production of the images. Similarly, images of grievous bodily injury or acts of severe violence resulting in severe physical harm are excluded, unless the same applies.
•Images of the death of a police officer or first responder in the course of their duties, unless the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate gives consent.
•Depictions of acts of severe violence resulting in severe physical harm to a police officer or first responder in the course of their duties, unless consent is obtained.
•Images of a person’s nude body unless consent is obtained.
•Protected health information or other identifying information including the identity of a person in a health care facility who is not the subject of a law enforcement encounter.
•Any information that could identify a victim of a sex offense, menacing by stalking or domestic violence.
Further exceptions are:
•Information that could identify an informant and endanger the safety or property of such information.
•Personal information of those not arrested, charged, given a written warning or cited by law enforcement.
•Proprietary police contingency plans or tactics for crime prevention, public order and safety.
•Personal conversations unrelated to work of law enforcement and employees, or conversation between police officer and citizen not concerning law enforcement activities.
•The interior of a residence or the interior of business not open to the public, unless the residence is the location of an adversarial encounter or use of force by law enforcement.
If a request for body cam footage is denied pursuant to these provisions, the law now allows the requester to file either a mandamus action in civil court or a complaint in court of claims. To receive the requested relief, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the public interest in recording outweighs the privacy interests and other interests asserted as reasons to deny release.
It is unknown how, or if, this new law will impact the case of Cincinnati Enquirer v. City of Cincinnati Police Department set for oral argument before the Ohio Supreme Court on May 19, 2019. Cincinnati Enquirer stems from a plainclothes police response to a call for adult children to leave the home of a parent, resulting in the use of force and a call for additional police reinforcements at the home. As expected, the responding officers were equipped with BWCs. The Cincinnati Enquirer requested the BWC footage and the request was denied based on the claim that the images constituted a Confidential Law Enforcement Investigatory Record (CLEIR). A CLEIR is not a public record if it pertains to a “law enforcement matter” involving a specific suspicion of misconduct and the investigating agency has the authority to enforce the law. The Cincinnati Police Department further claimed that disclosure of the footage would compromise the prosecution of the defendants (two adults in the home) by revealing work product. Nonetheless, the footage was disclosed after defendants plead guilty. If reviewed in conjunction with this new legislation, the court may provide further directive on the relation between BWC or dash cam recordings and the broader personal information revealed by such footage.