Public Access Opinion 19-001

Disclosure of Officer-Worn Body Camera

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 19-001
Date: Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Chicago Police Department (Department) violated FOIA by refusing to disclose copies of officer-worn body camera recordings related to a motor vehicle accident. On September 18, 2018, the Petitioner (a law firm) requested, among other items, copies of “any and all” body camera recordings from a particular police officer related to an identified traffic report number. The Department denied this portion of Petitioner’s FOIA request under FOIA Section 7(1)(a), which exempts from disclosure information that is specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law. The specific State law that the Department asserted applied was the Law Enforcement Officer-World Body Camera Act (Body Camera Act). The Body Camera Act generally prohibits the disclosure of body camera recordings under FOIA, except as set forth in Section 10-20(b).

The PAC reviewed Section 10-20(b)(3) of the Body Camera Act, which states that “upon request, the law enforcement agency shall disclose, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, the recording to the subject of the encounter captured on the recording or to the subject’s attorney, or the officer or his or her legal representative.” When the PAC asked the Department to explain how Section 10-20(b)(3) of the Body Camera Act applied, the Department did not respond. Instead, the Department argued that a body camera recording is not subject to disclosure under FOIA unless it is flagged in accordance with either Section 10-20(b)(1) or (b)(2) of the Body Camera Act. The PAC reviewed the legislative intent of the Body Camera Act and found that even though a recording must be “flagged” under Section 10-20(b)(1) or (b)(2), no flagging is required under Section 10-20(b)(3). As a result, the PAC ordered the Department to disclose the body camera recordings to the Petitioner.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.