Law enforcement videos now more expensive to obtain


At a time when increasing numbers of law enforcement agencies – including the Griffin Police Department – are implementing the use of body worn cameras (BWCs), Georgia lawmakers have enacted new legislation making it more costly to obtain the interactions the video recordings these and others devices document.

The legislation – Georgia House Bill 976 (HB 976) – addresses the minimum retention schedule for BWC recordings as well as law enforcement dashboard recording equipment, thus making it part of the Georgia Records Retention Act.

Georgia law associated with obtaining official records from governmental entities is outlined in OCGA 50-18-70, the Open Records Act, which specifies what charges may be levied for the production of records, including audio and video recordings. HB 976 now allows an additional $10 charge for each recording requested in addition to all charges previously applicable under the Open Records Act.

When contacted for assistance by a resident seeking to obtain video recordings from the city of Griffin, The GRIP made contact with the Georgia General Attorney’s Office, which mediates and takes legal action when necessary in support of the Open Records Act.

According to Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo, prior to The GRIP’s contact, the AG’s Office was unaware of any statutory changes that would impact fees assessed for Georgia records.

After researching the issue, Colangelo disputed the city of Griffin’s assertion that the Open Records Act had been revised.

“No, there has been no change to the Open Record Act,” Colangelo initially stated, later adding, “I have asked around the office about that new statute with the $10 fee, and basically what I was told is because that’s not part of the Open Records Act – it was put into a separate section of the Georgia statute that makes it part of the Records Retention Act – we don’t really have the authority to go around offering opinions on how it should work and it’s not clear to any of us anyway, so honestly, I just don’t know how they can calculate the $10 and break things up. That’s very vague.”

When asked to explain how the state’s record retention schedule is in any way associated with the fees allowed when official government records are requested under the Open Records Act, Colangelo said that is unclear.

“I don’t know. I’m not really sure…A lot of what the General Assembly does is beyond my understanding,” she said. “I don’t know. This one kind of slipped under the radar.”

Asked if this is a disturbing change to state law, Colangelo said that while it is reasonable for charges associated with the production of requested records to be recouped, “It shouldn’t be so much that it discourages requests. Just as a general rule, we like to see easier access for citizens. Anything that reduces access to citizens, we’re always kind of skeptical of.”

Former Griffin Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Johnnie Caldwell, who now serves as a state representative, in 2015 co-sponsored HB 976. Caldwell in 2015 also represented Ruby King, the secretary of Spalding County Sheriff Wendell Beam, in a legal petition to obtain a temporary protective order blocking the release of an Internal Affairs investigative report on David Gibson, formerly the captain of the SCSO Uniform Patrol Division. That report remained sealed until The GRIP received it through a separate Open Records request to Spalding County, which had not been included in the temporary protective order petition.

Comment was sought from Johnnie Caldwell, but he did not return multiple phone calls from The GRIP.

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