Requesting Footage From Police

State sunshine laws are the laws in each state that govern public access to governmental records. These laws are sometimes known as open records laws or public records laws, and are also collectively referred to as FOIA laws, after the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Cameras are everywhere.

In hospital waiting rooms, street corners, traffic lights (arghh), subway platforms, train stations, airports, buses, schools, even police cars. Most police cars keep “dash-cam” video and audio records of what occurs during a stop, as well as footage of those arrested, placed in the backseat of their vehicle, and driven to the police station for booking.

Most jail cells also have cameras installed and keep a 24/7 log of what occurs in those cells.

How to Request Footage

In most states, these types of footage are largely considered public governmental record. This means you have a right to submit a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for this footage from the police department and to receive it in a timely manner.

First you need to notify the police that you want the footage preserved and you need to be specific about arresting officer, have a badge number if possible, give the time, date, location etc. This notice should be in writing and sent via fax, certified mail or some other way to prove delivery of the notice. Contact the police department to determine who specifically should receive the request.

While most states give you the right to request dash-cam footage, radio tape and other video from police as an individual,  it is highly recommended that you obtain a good lawyer who can represent you and navigate this process on your behalf as it can be tricky. Especially if you are facing criminal charges.

For instance:

  • It is often necessary to first and foremost request that the tape be preserved. Dash cam tapes have a habit of being unavailable when the pre trial hearing comes to court. A lawyer can write a letter to make the DA and the police preserve the tape as evidence.
  • Even if you can get the footage on your own you probably won’t’ know what to do with it or how to present it so that it can be used in your favor. This is a lawyers job.
  • Request to preserve radio tapes may have to go through the County rather than the local PD or State Police.

Sample Request Letters

If you do go it alone, here is a link to research FOIA procedures in your state: STATE SUNSHINE LAWS

And here is a link to view a sample FOIA request documents from the National Freedom of Information Coalition: Sample FOIA Request Letters

Finally, here is a link that helps you generate an FOIA letter to request information from an extensive list of federal agencies—plus it gives their addresses: FOIA Letter Generator 

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3 Responses to “Requesting Footage From Police”

  1. Donna Powles May 14, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    In regards to requesting a copy of the dash cam video, my son’s public defender told him that they don’t do that. Then who does? The incident was on February 23, 2014. The police used unnecessary force on my son who was being compliant. He had a shotgun in the car on the passenger seat in full view (Nebraska has open carry law) and they made him climb over the gun? His cuts and bruises were documented by us, but not law enforcement. Why can’t the attorney request this?

    • Noelle K. Barnes August 12, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      Hi Donna, my apologies for just seeing your note! “Who will?” is a critical question and may require you do your own investigation outside of your defenders supposed “resource network.” There are also links to Civil Rights attorneys on my homepage who may be of service. I have lots of cynicism with regards to the “agendas” of public defenders—there are lots of reports of public defenders mostly making quick deals with prosecutors at the expense of a clients best interest. Please keep me posted on your progress and best wishes to you and your son.

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  1. Missouri teen shot by police was two days away from starting college | Fight Racially Biased Policing - August 12, 2014

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