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Utica authorities: Releasing police body worn camera video could cause more problems

The public can access police worn body camera footage, after an appellate division panel ruled that the footage is subject to public disclosure under state law.

Posted: Feb 20, 2019 6:38 PM

UTICA, NY-- The public can access police worn body camera footage, after an appellate division panel ruled that the footage is subject to public disclosure under state law.

But according to local authorities, public access to police videos could create more problems.

"Police officers are people too, so there are times when they will be on video tape and they will be talking to their spouse, or their girlfriend they might be talking to somebody that has nothing to do with work," said Scott McNamara, Oneida County district attorney. "There are people out there unfortunately that hate police and would do anything to embarrass somebody. So there are situations where police officers do have a right to have certain parts of those videos not released to the public."

The Appellate Division panel said that the footage doesn't constitute a personnel record and therefore isn't covered by a law that keeps such records secret.

The Associated Press and other media outlets had filed briefs arguing the footage is vital to police accountability.

The city's largest police union fought its release, citing privacy and safety concerns. The Police Benevolent Association says the decision is wrong, and it's assessing appeal options.

Utica Police Chief Mark Williams said he isn't worried about being transparent with the public, but he is concerned that it would cost the department more money to have enough staff to process FOIL requests.

"My main concern is that I don't know if I could financially keep the program the body worn camera program around if I had had to honor all news media and instances of requests for body cam footage," he said. "I don't have staff to handle all those type of requests. I think this is a really thing that could actually force a lot of departments out of the body worn camera business."

McNamara suggested that some information be withheld if it is personal or violates the privacy of the officers.

"We have to use common sense on this," McNamara said. "I think the police should be able to ask that certain parts of it be redacted if they can show that it's personal and private and has nothing to do with their job and I think that is the solution to this."

Freedom of Information Law requests, commonly referred to as FOIL requests, can be filed at Utica City Hall but is subject to a fee for processing the information.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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