Pay to slay

The Vegas PD plans to charge nearly $300 an hour for body cam footage

Experts say the police department in Las Vegas is making it difficult for citizens to hold them accountable.

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Police body-cams are meant to help keep those sworn to protect and serve accountable and honest. They're not mean to be difficult or expensive to access. But that's precisely what the Las Vegas police department has planned for the footage from the cams worn by its law enforcement officers. Starting July 1, the Las Vegas PD will begin charging the public $280 per hour-long copy of body-camera footage. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the department charged just $48 per-hour when its body-camera program launched in 2014.

How convenient — Advocates for an open-government say the costs will prove prohibitive for many and make it difficult to hold police accountable for their actions — never more important than today as protesters continue to clash with police and call for more transparency following the murder of unarmed black man George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

In one of many recent incidents of violence against non-violent protesters, two police officers in Buffalo, New York were caught on video shoving a 75-year old protester to the ground, causing him to hit his head and suffer a serious injury. The officers pushed the man to the ground almost immediately after ordering him to move, not allowing him any time to comply with their demand. After the video went viral online, the officers were suspended and plead not guilty to assault in the second degree.

Police are already paid through taxes — Such incidents are exactly why experts say body-cam footage should be easily accessible. They also say that, based on prior rulings, it may well be illegal to charge for such footage because, as a public agency, police departments are expected to provide the video as part of their regular duties. Residents fund law enforcement through their taxes, which suggests the department is charging requesters for services they've already paid for.

The Metropolitan Police Department in Las Vegas justifies the fee by arguing that fulfilling requests requires officers to sift through the footage and redact any information deemed sensitive to criminal investigations.

“Responding to record requests is part of the government’s job, so these costs are already assumed for staff,” said Patrick File, president of the Nevada Open Government Coalition, in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

California's Supreme Court last month ruled that government agencies must bear the costs of redacting police body-camera footage before releasing it.

Your phone is more important than ever — Considering that social media has been inundated of late with video evidence of police misconduct, and those same officials have it within their power to jack up the cost of accessing such evidence, it's no surprise they might be inclined to do so. Police have been emboldened by President Trump, who has encouraged law enforcement to crack down on protesters who he argues are undermining his presidency by sending the country into chaos.

Thankfully many cases of injustice — like George Floyd's murder — get captured by eyewitnesses and their trusty smartphones. When footage from the police is unattainable or can't be trusted, public documenting becomes even more important.