Ruling granting access to dash cam video in Pennsylvania may not last long

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled 5-2 in favor of allowing police dash cam video from car accidents to be released to the public, but the ruling may not last very long.

The ruling stems from a March 2014 right-to-know request from Michelle Grove. She wanted dash cam video from an accident her friend was involved in, but state police denied the request, citing a criminal investigative records exemption, according to the ruling.

Grove didn’t give up. A couple months later, she appealed that denial to the state’s open records office. The office granted her request, but then state police appealed the decision in court. Tuesday’s ruling upheld the decision to grant Grove access to the videos, making dash cam videos public records unless police can prove a specific exemption.

“Citizens should care because it gives them the ability to access police dash camera video, which will help them understand police interaction in the community and provide accountability,” said Melissa Melewsky, who filed a friend of the court brief in the case on behalf of a newspaper trade group in Pennsylvania.

While narrow in the scope of release, the decision opens up the state’s tightly held police videos. But the ruling may soon be moot, as the state legislature is taking up a bill that would exempt dash cam and body cam videos from right-to-know requests.

Senate Bill 560 would give police departments discretion in which requests to honor or refuse. The bill has passed both chambers, and state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf said he expects the bill to head to the governor by the end of the week. Gov. Tom Wolf has said he supports the measure.

“There are significant public access problems with Senate Bill 560,” said Melewsky.

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