Legislating the Creation, Access, and (not) the Retention of Officer-Worn Body Camera Records

As more and more law enforcement incidents are captured on police officer-worn body and dashboard cameras, states are obliged to consider legislation that governs the creation, retention, and public access of such records. Regulations, where they do exist, often lack uniformity between municipalities, cities, and states, as illustrated by the Brennan Center’s guide detailing police body camera retention policies across the U.S.

Awareness of such regulations, and navigating their inconsistencies, is an important part of how records managers execute their positions. What happens when retention and preservation provisions are absent from legislation governing the creation and access of such police records?

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is currently considering a bill that would legislate law enforcement use of body-worn cameras, and more importantly, public access to such records. Approved by the PA Senate (currently pending a vote in the House) on October 19, Senate Bill 976 – an expansion of Pennsylvania’s current Wiretap Act – would essentially do two things.

First, the bill would increase areas where police officers are permitted to use body cameras, such as within private homes and in public spaces. Under the bill, officers would not be required to directly inform individuals they were potentially being recorded. Second, the bill would place a considerable burden on those attempting to access these records.

SB976 stipulates that within 14 days of the incident a written request be submitted that includes, in “particularity”, the date, time, and location of the incident. Each individual in the footage must be identified by the requester, or at the least, described. If a request is denied – grounds for dismissal include lack of “sufficient particularity” –  an appeal must be filed in a PA Court of Common Pleas within 14 days of the denial, a $250 filing fee will be applied, the written request must be resubmitted, and finally “if the requested audio or video recording was made inside a structure, [identify] the owner and occupant of the structure.”

The amendment seems to contradict itself in that it specifically states that “an audio or video recording by a law enforcement officer shall not be subject to production under the act of February 14, 2008 (p.l.6, no.3), known as the right-to-know law” (Section 6702) while stipulating that that a court may grant release if a “preponderance of evidence” are met, including that “disclosure of the audio or video recording would be permissible under the right-to-know law.”

Pennsylvania civics and policy aside, you may be asking where records management fits into all this? While legislating officer-worn body camera use and record access, the bill does nothing to address appropriate retention periods and preservation methods law enforcement entities could be required to employ uniformly across the state. The bill actually removes language concerning retention periods of certain recorded communications. Primary sponsor Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, has acknowledged that provisions governing how long footage and accompanying data must be retained before it’s erased, as well as when a body-worn camera is turned on or off, are not considered in the bill.

The intent of the SB976 may be noble (“body cameras have a civilizing effect on both the officers and members of the public”), and there is no doubt that balancing public transparency, individual privacy, and the integrity of police investigations presents public policy and records management challenges alike. However, constraints to access and record keeping oversights may only serve to distance the citizenry from law enforcement and public officials, rather than fostering the transparency and trust the bills seeks to instill.

As states continue to consider legislation governing the use and access of police officer-worn body and dashboard camera records, records mangers should be engaged in this dialogue. If creation and access to such record can be legislated to serve the public interest, so too can record keeping policies. Records mangers must continue to be advocates for clear and consistent retention and preservation provisions that benefit the public good, in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

NARA survey on Records Schedule Website

[Posted by request of Anne Mason, Office of the Chief Records Officer, NARA. Easy access to, and interpretation of, records schedules is extremely important for compliance with same, so even if you don’t work with NARA proper it’s possibly worth your while to look at the RCS website and provide feedback re: what’s going well and what could be improved.

Real post from me coming, sometime after my presentation on Personal Digital Archives at Wisconsin Libraries Association tomorrow. Cross my heart.–BH]

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) asks for your assistance by completing a short survey. NARA provides access to Federal agency records control schedules, also referred to as records disposition schedules, on our website (http://archives.gov/records-mgmt/rcs/). These schedules assist Federal agencies by providing authorities for disposal and permanent retention of government records. We would like to hear your thoughts and opinions about the usefulness of this site. This will allow NARA to make informed decisions about improvements to the site so we can better serve you in the future. This survey should take less than 10 minutes to complete. Be assured that all answers you provide will be kept confidential. Thank you for taking part in this important survey. Please click on the link below to begin.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HD5YTFJ

 

How to Audit Nothing

A local news story recently caught my attention, because it contains many lessons for records professionals, auditors, and local government. Last month, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported,

“A tiny river town in Adams County has no mayor, no clerk and, apparently, no financial records. The state auditor’s office has ruled the Village of Rome “unauditable” and is warning that legal action may follow.

In a press release Monday, the Ohio Auditor of State reported that during its audit of the village, which is scheduled to take place every two years, no financial records were provided.”

The entire story is worth reading. In addition to the lack of records, it seems that the Village of Rome lacks clear elected leadership, and that no one ran for mayor, clerk, or council during the last election.

This got me thinking – is this a recurring issue in very small jurisdictions? The Village of Rome only had 94 citizens at the time of the 2010 Census. While I don’t know much about the demographics of Rome, it does seem like it would be difficult to find and recruit enough elected representatives from a body of fewer than 100. From a quick web search, this seems like it’s an issue all over the United States. Jacksonburg, Ohio (population: 64) has gone at least 10 years without anyone filing for the top offices (in which case a write-in wins, or someone must be appointed). In Minnesota, 2/3 of local offices either have 0 or 1 candidate running, and over 30 cities have no one running for mayor. Sometimes there is little documented guidance about what to do if you want to retire and no one else files to run for your spot.

A common theme through many of these articles is that running for elected office in small jurisdictions is a thankless job: little compensation, or recognition, but still a significant amount of work. And since many rural residents now commute long distances to larger urban areas, there is a small pool of people potentially willing to run for elected office.

So what are the records management implications? Obviously even the smallest community is not an island unto itself, and typically is part of a larger governance relationship. It may be required to submit records to the county or state on a regular basis. And as we see from the Village of Rome, officials with records responsibilities are the key ingredient to not only creating and maintaining records, but performing their own act of archival transparency and authenticity by existing in the first place to turn over records to auditors. No people means no records.

Perhaps the best summary of this mess comes from the press release from the Ohio Auditor of State:

“It’s tough to start an audit when you can’t even find the people in charge,” Auditor Yost said, “but it’s even harder when they don’t provide any records.”

Liaison Management Lessons

Today’s post comes from RMRT member Holly Dolan, MLS. She is Assistant Manager of Electronic Records at Denton County Records Management in Denton, TX.

As a rookie in field of records management I’ve quickly learned that the work we do is as much about people and their behavior as it is about records. Spanning 58 local government departments, the Records Liaison Officer program in Denton County is meant to provide clear channels for communication, training, and collaboration. Yet, nothing is ever as easy as it seems.

Right now, our goal is to reach a point where our liaisons understand and feel comfortable with their roles. However, I believe that eventually we’ll achieve even more than that—a network of knowledgeable and enthusiastic records liaisons. In the meantime, I’m approaching my job with creativity and a healthy sense of humor.

If you’re also working with liaisons, here’s some advice from the work I’ve done so far:

Make your expectations for liaisons clear. People may get confused if they are appointed to a position or get an ambiguous line on their performance agreement without any clear-cut information about what is expected of them. I’ve worked through this by creatively summarizing information. As a local government, we have an official resolution that spells out records liaison expectations–this might be something like a policy/procedure document or an operational plan if you work in academia or the private sector. I took this lengthy resolution and made it in to a colorful, easy-to-read infographic that spells out these expectations but only takes a couple of minutes to read. The infographic cites the official resolution so that liaisons know where to find the complete document.

Liaison Infographic

Be a face, not just an e-mail. I’m making a point to go out and meet each one of our liaison officers individually. Is it difficult to get meetings with 58 people? Yes. Is it worth it to form trusting work-relationships with people? Yes. After an in-person meeting, my liaisons seem to understand that my goal is to make everyone’s jobs easier, so they’re more open to asking questions. I also receive invaluable information about the workflows of these departments that help me when designing training.

Think about scale and relevance when designing training. Remember that training materials for a department of 3 people may be very different than training materials for a department of 50. Try to learn as much as you can about the functions and needs of your liaisons’ offices before sending them training materials. Some liaisons can learn all the information they need from a handout. Others will probably need webinars, in-person trainings, or even several weeks of hands-on consultation to achieve records management goals. Try to cater to the needs of the department.

Don’t take anything personally. Even though you’re not trying to “shake things up,” implementing records liaisons is a change and people may resist you. You’ll be met with a few strained-but-polite smiles, ignored e-mails, or brusque responses. Keep smiling. Keep giving people information and responding with compassion.

Open Source Tools: MUSE

Today I offer my third post in a series based on NARA’s 2015 report “Open Source Tools for Records Management.”  I investigated MUSE (Memories USing Email), which was developed at Stanford University. It is available for use in a Windows, Mac, or Linux environment.  I conducted my tests using Windows.

This program is a visualization tool for analyzing emails.  It is still in active development, and it currently incorporates six tools:

  • tabulates topics
  • charts sentiments
  • tracks the ingress and egress of email correspondents and groups people who “go together” based on their receipt of messages
  • allows you to browse attachments on a Piclens 3D photo wall
  • offers the possibility of personalizing web pages by highlighting terms also found in your email (requires the use of a browser extension)
  • creates crossword puzzles based on your email archive

muse_acct-typeOnce you download the executable file from the above site, the program runs locally on your computer.  Muse can be deployed on a static archive of email messages (e.g., an mbox file) or it can fetch email from online accounts for which you have the email address, password, and server settings.  It defaults to analyzing Sent mail, based on the principle that those messages more accurately reflect the topics and people with which the account owner is most engaged, but you can also include additional folders.  You can then browse all messages in the embedded viewer — without having to open each message individually — or you can use any of the tools listed above.

muse_sentimentsThe sentiment analyzer using natural language processing and a built-in lexicon, but it can be customized by the user to identify desired terms (see Edit Lexicon highlighted above to access the screen below).

muse_lexiconAccording to their tip sheet for journalists, MUSE “was originally meant for people to browse their own long-term email archives.  We have now started adapting it for journalists, archivists and researchers.”  Due to the ease of use of this lightweight tool, this could be an easy way for repositories to provide an email analysis tool to researchers.  This same tip sheet defines the “sweet spot” for the software as archives with about 50,000 messages.

If you’re interested in learning more about MUSE, a Ph.D. dissertation and a number of papers are available here.  There’s also a video that argues for the value of analyzing personal digital archives.  This project dovetails with the work being done at Stanford on ePADD — check out our Hangout for more information on that project.

SAA Session 707: “Hindsights and Fresh Perspectives: Records Management Programs Learn from Each Other”

This records management session featured participation by several RMRT steering committee members, with Alex Toner (University of Pittsburgh) moderating the session and Hillary Gatlin presenting.

Anita Vannucci of Emory University emphasized the importance of knowing open/public records laws.  She suggested prioritizing work with the people who want to work with you – and then leverage this work to advocate for additional resources.  She has found it useful to look to her state archives for resources that can be borrowed or adapted and to find out what peer institutions are doing.

Donna McCrea from the University of Montana looked to the American Association of Registrars and Admission Officers Retention, Disposal, and Archive of Student Records (2013) for guidance.  They created a RRS upon the directive of the Commissioner of Higher Education.

Hillary Gatlin from Michigan State University focused on records destruction.  At MSU, the Director of Archives must approve records destructions, so they’ve developed a form that can be seen here.

Daniel Noonan from the Ohio State University reported on their general schedule and department-specific schedules.  The Inter-University Council of Ohio developed a new schedule in 1992 after the universities were “liberated” from the state records management system.

Johna Von Behrens from Stephen F. Austin State University said an internal audit is a good means of identifying the risks of poor record management:

  • non-compliance
  • records not appropriately classified and identified
  • recordkeeping process not effective
  • records (paper and electronic) not adequately safeguarded
  • inadequate record retention management
  • process not communicated

Mary McRobinson reported that Willamette University began a records management program in 2010, and because their archives staff had no bandwidth for this additional work, they brought in outside consultants to devise retention and disposition schedules.  Their process was as follows:

  • set up steering committee with stakeholders
  • sent out RFP
  • consultants toured campus, interviewed departments, developed retention and disposition schedules
  • consultants also produced guidance report – current situation, implementation, etc.
  • RM program is introduced at new employee orientation
  • individual training of departmental liaisons is coordinated by RM program

Virginia Hunt from the Harvard University Archives said their RM program was established in 1995 by a corporation vote.  They ultimately combined collection development and RM services.  They’ve found web archiving to be an effective form of outreach.

SAA Session 602: “Building Effective Relationships with Legal Counsel”

This session featured a variety of archivists discussing the necessity of having a good working relationship with legal counsel.

Kathleen Roe, former SAA president and retired from the New York State Archives, noted two trends — an increasing professionalization of archives and an increasingly litigious society.  She asserted all archivists need to know about FOIA, the PATRIOT ACT, state public records laws, HIPAA, FERPA, and IP laws.  She counseled that ignorance of the law will not stand up in court – even if it’s how your predecessors did it!  She provided several words of wisdom:

  • “archivists need to be proactive, not reactive”
  • “everything’s an advocacy opportunity”

Roger Christman of the Library of Virginia explained that their processing guidelines haven’t been vetted by an attorney, so they err on the side of caution, and many items are restricted that probably only need to be redacted.

Samantha Cross works at CallisonRTKL, Inc.  Their archives has been housed in IT, Operations, and now resides in Legal.  She contended that it’s vital to be assertive and to have an advocate.  She suggested the importance of helping people understand that records management is a liability and risk management issue.

Javier Garza work at the Historical Resources Center, University of Texas MD Anderson (MDA) Cancer Center.  They have conducted oral histories with MDA administrators, doctors, and nurses – some of whom were also patients.  So they created a HIPAA decision tree to determine access to these oral histories.  He clarified that any type of health information is protected if that person is a patient of MDA – even if MDA didn’t treat that particular issue.

Christina Zamon from Emerson College explained the copyright complications that arose when a musician/humorist wanted to donate works and make them freely available.