Access to Police Records: An Ongoing Debate

Police record requests remain in the spotlight across the country as states seek the equilibrium between privacy rights; ongoing investigations, and the public’s right-to-know.

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Biden wants more transparency for police disciplinary records. Experts say it’s harder than it sounds

During a CNN town hall in Cincinnati, Ohio, [in July], President Joe Biden called for use of a tool long touted by police reform advocates: access to police disciplinary records.

“We have to have rules where you can be able to determine what the background (is), how many times a cop has violated the rules, and be able to have access to what’s going on in police departments so the Justice Department can get involved in whether or not they have to change their pattern and practices,” Biden said.

But the move to make the records public is more difficult than it seems, experts say.

Each [state] has its own rules, responsibilities, and powers, including the processes by which they discipline their officers and record data on their employees. Most don’t collect the same kinds of information, making the process of crunching police conduct data into one uniform database difficult and time-consuming, says Maira Kwaja, director of public strategy at the Invisible Institute. 

Read More | Detroit Free Press


Accessing police body-worn camera footage in Wisconsin

The public’s access to body cam footage is limited in the state of Wisconsin, which can have an effect on public perception — and court proceedings.

When members of the public, including journalists and lawyers, want to access body camera footage, we have to file an open records request.

Public agencies are supposed to release those records, including video, without delay.

But our requests are routinely denied when an investigation is ongoing, not just from Milwaukee Police, but agencies across the state.

Read More | TMJ4 News 


Iowa argues open-records law not 'well-recognized' policy

Iowa’s open-records law is not “a well-recognized public policy” and thus does not give job protections to employees who fulfill public information requests, the state attorney general’s office contends.

State lawyers representing Gov. Kim Reynolds and her spokesman, Pat Garrett, make that assertion in asking a judge to dismiss a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Polly Carver-Kimm, the Iowa Department of Public Health’s former longtime communications director.

Carver-Kimm argues that Reynolds and Garrett pressured her bosses to strip her duties after the coronavirus pandemic began last year and ultimately forced her to resign because of her willingness to release records and data sought by journalists and the public. She alleges that the public health department, at the behest of the governor’s office, “sought to slow, stifle and otherwise divert the free flow of information” about Iowa’s pandemic response.

Read More | Des Moines Register

Peer Resource

6 steps law enforcement agencies should take as new laws change how police records requests are handled

It’s a fact: law enforcement and public safety agencies are facing enormous spikes in requests for police records (including video/audio files and personnel conduct records) from citizens and the media as a result of recent civil unrest and calls for police reform – particularly following the in-custody death of George Floyd in 2020.

Uncertainty remains, but law enforcement agencies across the country can learn from California and take these six steps now to prepare for potential changes in their own state’s legislation related to public requests for police records.

Read More | Police 1 News

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GovQA regularly hosts and moderates roundtables and webinars with partners, associations, customers, and other subject matter experts to create and expand opportunities for state and local government agency members to discuss the challenges they face.

Webinar: Responding to Video/Audio IPRA/OPRA and CCJRA Requests in New Mexico/Colorado

New York State Virtual Discovery Roundtable

Webinar: Responding to Video/Audio Public Record Requests in Maryland/Connecticut

New York State Association of Counties

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The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to

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