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Published on Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Courts Rule on Disclosure of Police Dashboard Cameras, Searches of Personal Computers

Last month, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that police dashboard camera video may only be withheld from public disclosure in limited circumstances.

The case stems from a reporter seeking videos and video logs from the Seattle Police Department (SPD). SPD argued it was barred from releasing the videos under the State’s privacy act.

A divided Supreme Court instead overturned a lower court’s ruling that all dashboard camera videos could be withheld for three years, and held that the Public Records Act’s general rule that exemptions be interpreted narrowly means that videos can only be withheld when they relate to actual, pending litigation.

In addition, a Kitsap County Superior Court issued a ruling in a case cities should watch closely, Paulson v. the City of Bainbridge Island. The court ruled that documents on councilmembers’ personal computers were subject to the Public Records Act, that the city should have searched their personal email accounts and computers for documents responsive to a public records act request, and that the councilmembers must turn over their personal computers for a search. The city has appealed this ruling.