Having introduced body cameras to its police force in October 2018, Patton Township is now determining how to charge for requests from the public to view those recordings if deemed relevant.
Police Chief Tyler Jolley asked the township’s board of supervisors to consider a fee structure for release of the recordings at the June 12 meeting.
Pennsylvania Act 22 provides a process for the public to access those recordings, said Jolley. He said that the act requires that within 60 days of the recoding an individual must submit a written request to the police department. The request must specify the date, time and location of the incident, along with the relationship of the requester’s relationship to the incident. If the recording happened inside a residence, they must identify all the people present during the encounter unless not known or easily ascertained for them.
Jolley said the department then reviews the requests and if audio or video recordings involves information that includes an ongoing investigation or involves confidential informants, it is denied automatically.
He proposed a $75-per-hour fee structure for the cost of searching, editing and reproducing each video or audio request. The minimum fee would be $25. Fees must be paid prior to delivery of the recording to the requestor or requestor’s agent. If the police department open records officer estimates that the fee for any request will exceed $150, the requestor will be provided an estimate prior to the department processing the request.
The township board asked Jolley to provide more information to make sure that fees are at a reasonable rate and will not take action for the request until the July 17 meeting.
“I don’t know what other municipalities’ costs are, I really don’t want to put an undue burden on police or people who might be requesting these kinds of things,” said board member Jessica Buckland. “It really does matter that people have the opportunity to not have a road block to get access to public records.”
Board member Betsy Whitman said she would like to have more information of the fees in other municipalities that are similar in size.
“I don’t want any undue obstruction of justice, but at the same time I do not want any undue burden to the staff,” said Whitman.
Buckland said she needs more information on the subject, but she does not think that it is unreasonable to charge a fee.
Jolley said the fees are “exactly the same” as the charges applied by the Ferguson Township Police Department. The only other department that has body cameras in the region currently is Spring Township. State College is in the process of providing body cameras to its officers.
Jolley said that the department is working to get a memorandum of understanding with the district attorney’s office to have that office review all requests from the public to review body camera footage.
“To take the burden off of us … so a lawyer makes the decision if it should or shouldn’t be released,” said Jolley.