The Vermont Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont. In an interview with WAMC Thursday, staff attorneys explained that the group is arguing that the Burlington Police Department has violated the state’s Public Records Act by requiring a city resident to pay a fee to access body cam video of an incident he witnessed. The ACLU claims government agencies are barred from charging for inspection of public records. Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo had written a letter outlining fees that are authorized. He tells WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley they also followed the ACLU’s body cam policy recommendations.
“There’s a few things at work here. The first is that Vermont has to balance privacy and transparency. So it makes its government records transparent but in doing so it requires that we make the redactions necessary to maintain privacy for victims and witnesses, ah, minors, youths etcetera. So what we did when we made our argument was actually just follow the ACLU’s recommended policy on body cameras that says that if you are going to make any alterations to a body camera file the ACLU asks that you make a copy of it and make the alterations to the copy. That there has to be a complete and correct and permanent original that is unchanged. So number one we make a copy of the footage. And number two we spend a lot of time redacting that footage. And what the law in Vermont says is that you are allowed to charge for the time necessary to prepare a document with redactions. And the lower courts have agreed with us. So we’ll see if the Supreme Court follows suit.”
There’s more on the ACLU’s argument regarding Doyle v. City of Burlington Police Department at wamc.org.