A television news station in New York is suing the New York Police Department for charging $36,000 to view police body camera footage.
Citing the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), reporter Courtney Gross with cable news station NY1 requested in April that the department provide her with 190 hours of unedited body camera footage.
Four months later, the police department told NY1 that it would only provide the station redacted footage, and it would cost $36,000.
The station, owned by Time Warner Cable, is “seeking to vindicate NY1 and the people’s right to footage” with its lawsuit, filed on Wednesday and reported Thursday by the New York Post.
“Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality,” the lawsuit reads.
The NYPD defended the $36,000 bill in a September letter to the network:
The [records access officer’s] estimate of the cost of processing a copy of the [body camera footage] was reasonable based on an estimate that the total time of footage recorded during the five weeks specified in the FOIL request was approximately 190 hours, and that in addition to the 190 hours required to View the recordings in real time, an additional 60% (or 114 hours) will be required to copy the Footage in a manner that will redact the exempt portions of the [footage], for a total of approximately 304 hours.
The lowest paid NYPD employee “with the skills required to prepare a redacted copy of the recordings is in the rank of police officer, and the cost of compensating a police officer is $120.00 per hour. Multiplying $120.00 by 304 hours equals $36,480, which closely approximates the amount estimated by the [records access officer].
This approximate cost does not include the time required to locate and collate the recordings, for which no charge is made, as that time is a part of the search for responsive records, and not a part of the time required for copying.
As Gawker pointed out, it is unclear how the police department arrived at the $120-per-hour compensation rate, which would suggest a New York police officer earns nearly $250,000 a year.
In her appeal to the police department, Gross called the proposed fee “an unreasonable bar to public access.”
“We believe this fee … undercuts the purpose and scope of FOIL: to foster transparency and trust between government and the citizenry,” she wrote.
According to New York’s Freedom of Information Law, if a records request takes longer than two hours to fulfil, an agency can charge to cover the employee’s time.
You can read the entire lawsuit here.
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