skip navigation

Disclosure of Law Enforcement Video Footage

This page discusses the disclosure of video footage in the possession of police and sheriff departments in Washington State, including dashcam and body camera footage. It is part of MRSC's series on Law Enforcement Records Management and Disclosure, created in partnership with the State Auditor's Center for Government Innovation. Always consult with your legal counsel if you are unsure whether a record is exempt or prohibited from disclosure.

For information regarding the disclosure of other types of records, see Common Prohibitions and Exemptions for Law Enforcement Records.

Law Enforcement Videos Generally

Law enforcement videos can include dashcam and body camera footage, video recordings of witness interviews, and private security camera footage obtained by law enforcement. Although disclosure of such footage can raise privacy concerns and other issues (such as adequate redaction techniques), no specific exemptions or prohibitions exist for law enforcement videos, except for a narrow exemption for dashcam videos and a limited and temporary exemption for body camera footage (see below).

However, law enforcement videos may be covered by other exemptions or prohibitions. For instance, video footage is exempt from disclosure (either in whole or in part) if:

Dashcam (In-Car) Footage

RCW 9.73.090(1)(c) prohibits public disclosure of in-car videos if there is actual, pending litigation arising from the recorded events. In these cases, the videos may only be disclosed to the public after final disposition. See Fisher Broadcasting v. City of Seattle. However, this prohibition does not apply if the requestor is one of the parties involved in the litigation.

Body Camera Footage

In 2016, the state legislature created a temporary exemption for certain body camera footage. This exemption only applies to agencies that have deployed body cameras by June 9, 2016, and to video footage that meets the two-prong test of RCW 42.56.050 (disclosure would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and the video is not of legitimate concern to the public). The exemption sunsets on July 1, 2019; the legislature created a task force to study the issue and the intent is for the task force recommendations to take the place of the new exemption. For details, see our blog post on new PRA exemption for body camera recordings.

The issue of body camera video footage disclosure has not yet been fully resolved, although the new (temporary) PRA exemption provided by EHB 2362 does provide some protections. Body cameras are unique because they can record in private residences, which raises privacy concerns including:

  • Privacy Act (chapter 9.73 RCW);
  • Fourth Amendment constitutional right to privacy;
  • Washington State Constitution right to privacy (article 1, section 7); and
  • Common law privacy issues.

In 2014, the Attorney General’s Office issued a formal opinion (AGO 2014 No. 8) concluding that body cam recording in private residences does not violate the Privacy Act. Notably, however, the opinion did not address whether disclosure of body cam video recordings from private residences violates an individual’s constitutional right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment or the common law right to privacy.

The new body camera exemption does address privacy in the context of the PRA, indicating that disclosure of certain body camera recordings is presumed to be highly offensive. To withhold the recording, agencies also need to meet the second prong of the privacy test in RCW 42.56.050 (not of legitimate concern to the public).

The state legislature has created a task force to examine the use of body cameras, with a final report due to the governor and legislative committees by December 1, 2017. This report will address various aspects of body cam programs, including public record considerations, and the expectation is that the task force recommendations will modify and/or replace the exemption in EHB 2362.

Last Modified: February 05, 2019