ACLU of Rhode Island Files Contempt Motion Against Police for Failing to Release Video Camera Policy

April 8, 2002 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.– In papers filed in Superior Court today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island has asked that the Providence Police Department be held in contempt of court for failing to release copies of its policies governing its use of surveillance cameras in public locations in the city.

Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, said access to the city’s policies “is critical to ensure that this intrusive surveillance technique will not be abused by police.” The ACLU had opposed on privacy grounds the cameras’ installation when plans for their use were first announced. Last October, Judge Vincent Ragosta granted the ACLU’s motion for the documents pursuant to an open records lawsuit.

The ACLU originally filed an open records request for those policies (as well as policies relating to cameras in police cruisers) in May 2000, but the police refused to release any documents, claiming they were exempt from disclosure under the law. Last month, after the ACLU sought the city’s compliance with the court order, the city claimed for the first time that it had no policies at all governing the use of the public surveillance cameras.

In addition to pointing to the Police Department’s inconsistent positions over the course of the lawsuit, the ACLU motion filed today by volunteer attorney Staci L. Kolb noted that news reports at the time of the lawsuit stated that a policy on the surveillance cameras had in fact been drafted and was being reviewed.

Pointing out that it has been almost two years since the first surveillance camera was unveiled, Kolb said, “It is inconceivable that the Providence police would not have policies or guidelines in place concerning the use of the video cameras.”

The city’s intransigence in this case is not unique. In this same lawsuit, city officials continued to deny the ACLU access to their policies governing cameras in police cruisers even after a copy of that policy was provided to a Providence Journal reporter who then wrote a story which described the policy in detail. The October court order marked the third time in two years in which the ACLU successfully sued the Providence Police for unlawfully withholding public documents.

“Give credit to the City of Providence for managing to violate both the public’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know at the same time,” Brown said.

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