New data on public requests in 2017 for video from D.C. police body-worn cameras show volume and costs remain far less than forecast during the heated debate in 2015.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser fought to prohibit public access, in part with forecasts that the District faced sky-high costs--more than a million dollars a year--for new staff to handle time-consuming review of an expected 4,500 requests a year. The projections lacked any foundation, as there was scant BWC experience nationwide at the time. With the small evidence available (that showed nothing like such costs), the Coalition rebutted the estimates and joined many community voices in successfully urging the Council that regular FOIA procedures were adequate to protect all the interests involved.
Data obtained by the Open Government Coalition on BWC video requests in fiscal year 2017 (October 2016 to September 2017) show a total of 155 (requesting 191 separate videos), or three a week, a trickle compared to the 936 regular FOIA requests to the police department in the same time period (the most of any DC agency).
Of 106 requests processed, 46 were denied (usually where the video was linked to an investigation in progress), three requests were granted in full, and 57 were granted in part, after blurring of faces and other details (called “redaction”). Ten were withdrawn and eight remained in process as the year ended September 30, 2017. And 31 more were closed after a search showed no video existed for the event in question, the request was never perfected or fee disputes remained unresolved.
Financial information the Coalition obtained included charges from four outside contractors doing the video redaction. The total for the year was $115,420, of which almost all (just under $98,000) went to Quetel, a Virginia firm.
Though officers' BWC video is downloaded to a central storage system often, making the video easier to search probably than other records, processing requests took on average 48 days, more than double the 19 days for the average MPD FOIA request. A dozen people work in the MPD FOIA office (at a cost of $1.2 million annually) but the workload attributable just to BWC request processing is not available.