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RED BANK: COUNCIL MUM ON BODYCAM FEE

red-bank-police-102622-1-500x375-2928709The borough has been “flooded” with requests for bodycam video of DWI arrests, said the police chief. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-220x138-7378486The Red Bank council rejected, without comment, a police department request to set fees for providing bodycam videos sought by the public Wednesday night.

Adoption would have helped cops reduce a “flood” of demands from requesters who simply want to monetize footage on social media, said Chief Darren McConnell.At issue was a proposed amendment (2023-21) to the borough’s public records ordinance. The change would allow the borough to charge a fee “for any extraordinary expenditure of time and effort” to fulfill an Open Public Records Act request for bodycam and dashcam video.

The fee would based on “the actual direct cost” of department review and redacting video, and billed at the lowest hourly rate of the personnel authorized to perform the work, the text says.

The job, performed by a specially trained department member, involves ensuring privacy by means such as blurring faces of witnesses and juveniles, obscuring license plates, and eliminating audio that includes health information, said McConnell, who also serves as interim borough administrator.

Bodycams may also record police-radio audio containing sensitive information about unrelated matters that needs to be silenced before delivery to a requestor, he said.

Charging “special service” fees for OPRA requests is already permitted under New Jersey’s OPRA statute, McConnell said. The proposed amendment “is really defining how we’re going to set that service fee in Red Bank for these particular requests so it’s not just going to be arbitrary,” he said at the council’s semimonthly meeting. “It’s going to follow the ordinance.”

While “99 percent” of OPRA requests for police documents can be completed without triggering fees, McConnell told redbankgreen that “most video requests “will incur a fee as they are extremely involved to redact.” Video requesters would be given an estimated cost in advance, he said.

Linda Hill, a McLaren Street resident who ran for council on the Red Bank Together slate last month, asked the council to set threshholds that would trigger the fees to keep routing requests free.

“I believe that we all should be able to access [footage], whether or not we’re able to pay whatever fees are determined,” she said. “I really do appreciate what you’re trying to avoid, but we don’t have a problem yet, and there are ways to deal with OPRA requests that are considered specious, superfluous. So why not just wait?”

McConnell challenged Hill’s assertions.

“It actually is a problem. We’re getting flooded with requests for body-worn camera footage,” he said. “The most egregious is one [requestor] who wants every DWI so they can post them to YouTube.

“It literally took one of our officers three days to redact the video of one DWI arrest,” McConnell said. “So that’s three days an officer is either in on overtime or is taken off the road and being replaced by a different officer on overtime. So it is problematic. Every police department in Monmouth County is dealing with it now.”

Councilwoman Kate Triggiano, who serves as liaison to the department, made a motion to introduce the amendment. But when Mayor Billy Portman asked for a second, the rest of the council was silent, and the ordinance was declared to have failed.

Triggiano is the only one of the four council incumbents who ran in the May 9 election who will be returning to the governing body when it reorganizes July 1. Councilmembers Michael Ballard, Jacqueline Sturdivant and John Jackson all lost their bids for new terms by a wide margin.

On Thursday, redbankgreen asked Triggiano if she expects the new council will try to enact the change.

“I believe so, yes,” she said via text. “I believe the chief explained the need for it best last night.”

Meantime, McConnell told redbankgreen, “we will simply utilize the state law that permits us to charge a special service fee essentially the same as the ordinance would have done.”

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