The RTKL for Requesters – Video Training Session

Office of Open Records LogoOn Dec. 2, I hosted a training session on Zoom designed for requesters, including members of the media and anyone interested in accessing government records in Pennsylvania.

That session, The Right-to-Know Law for Requesters, is now available on YouTube.

Here’s the PowerPoint presentation that I used:

The Right-to-Know Law for Requesters (Dec. 2, 2020) – PPTX
The Right-to-Know Law for Requesters (Dec. 2, 2020) – PDF

You can watch the entire video here or on the OOR’s YouTube Channel:

Requesting Police Video and Audio in Pennsylvania

Open records_logo stackedAct 22 of 2017 (specifically, Chapter 67A of the Act) now governs the process of requesting audio and video recordings in the possession of law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania.

We’ve added a page to the Office of Open Records website which covers the topic in some detail (although it’s always a good idea to review the law itself). Here are some highlights.

Act 22 applies to “any audio recording or video recording made by a law enforcement agency” — the Right-to-Know Law does not apply to requests for those recordings.

Act 22 defines “law enforcement agency” as:

  • The Office of the Attorney General;
  • A District Attorney’s Office; or
  • An agency that employs a law enforcement officer.

Requests for police recordings must:

  • Be sent within 60 days of the recorded event;
  • Be sent to the law enforcement agency’s Open Records Officer;
  • Include the date and time of the event; and
  • Include the requester’s relationship to the event.

In addition, if the recording was made inside a residence, the request must identify every person present (unless their identities are unknown and not reasonably ascertainable).

After receiving a request, the agency has 30 days to respond. A request may be denied if the recording includes:

  • Potential evidence in a criminal matter; or
  • Information pertaining to an investigation or a matter in which a criminal charge has been filed; or
  • Confidential information; or
  • Victim information; and
  • Reasonable redaction will not safeguard the potential evidence or the information.

If a request is granted, the agency can charge “reasonable fees” (which is undefined in the law) for a copy of the recording.

If a request is denied, the requester has 30 days to file an appeal with the appropriate Court of Common Pleas. There’s a $125 filing fee, and the appeal must include:

  • Copies of the request and any response(s);
  • Proof the agency’s Open Records Officer was served with the appeal; and
  • If the recording was made inside a residence, proof that everyone who was in the residence was served with the appeal (unless their identities are unknown and not reasonably ascertainable).

Act 22 does allow for the discretionary release of police recordings: Nothing in the law precludes a law enforcement agency or a prosecuting attorney with jurisdiction from choosing to release an audio or video recording, with or without a written request. (In certain cases, the law enforcement agency can only release the recording with the written permission of the prosecuting attorney.)

PA’s Right-to-Know Law: The Basics – Videos

The Office of Open Records has produced four videos, all available at our new YouTube channel.

These videos describe some of the basics of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

Introduction to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law:

How to File a Request Under PA’s Right-to-Know Law:

How to Respond to a Request Under PA’s Right-to-Know-Law:

How to File an Appeal Under PA’s Right-to-Know-Law:

We plan to produce more videos in the future. If you have suggestions on topics you’d like to see covered, please contact the Office of Open Records or post a comment below.