How much do police videos actually cost?

Also linked below: Real World Police invoices for records, 8/18 to 5/19

Question: Your Patreon blurb said that the monthly cost of obtaining the channel’s exclusive content is more than $1,000. How is that possible? Aren’t these videos public records?

Public records are not free and law enforcement video records are uniquely expensive. 

Why is that?

Each state has its own statute governing access to public records and every state’s public records law allows - in many cases requires - that fees be charged for those records. How much can be charged and under what circumstances varies between states, but the most common fee schedule calls for charging the ‘actual cost’ of producing the requested records.(1) <-- a hack-ish footnote; see below.

Video records are particularly expensive because every second of every released video must be carefully reviewed to ensure that it does not contain material that is confidential or otherwise exempt from disclosure. It is just as illegal for a public body to release confidential information as it is for them to withhold information that must be released. And realistically, their legal exposure is greater for the former.

So what do they bill for?

Typically, billing is based on the hourly wage (including benefits) of the lowest-paid employee capable of doing each of the following tasks:

1. Searching for and gathering responsive videos

2. Reviewing every second of every video for exempt or confidential information (this is sometimes billed at an attorney rate)

3. Redacting the videos as needed

4. Copying the redacted videos, and

5. Sending them.

Despite the fact that some public records laws allow the requestor to decide how they wish to receive the records, most law enforcement agencies live in the past and refuse to transmit records electronically. That’s not something I am likely to sue them over, and the only realistic alternative is to live with it. Which typically means paying the cost of DVDs plus shipping.(2)(3) <-- more footnotes

One other thing you should know is that the vast majority of the content I acquire doesn’t meet the channel’s standards for publication. 

As you may have noticed, some videos have information redacted or faces blurred. Beyond that, however, is an enormous quantity of footage that you will likely never see. In many cases personal privacy considerations outweigh newsworthiness, or publication may unacceptably violate a victim’s right to privacy. "It's legal" is never a justification for publishing something that may be harmful.

And then there are the videos that get rejected for quality reasons. In many cases the video and / or audio are simply unusable, or the main 'action' of the incident wasn’t even captured on video.

All of that still gets billed, obviously. You can't only pay for the good stuff.

[Tangentially: the videos on Real World Police are not public records. They are original creative works whose underlying footage is generally a public record. That may sound like a technicality but it will be highly relevant in later discussion.]

You liar! There is no way that adds up to well over $1,000 a month!

Think again.

Time to get back to work. ✌️



I wish Patreon had, well... any formatting tools, so I could add real footnotes. (They don't even offer superscript.) 

Footnotes follow:

1.  Some states have a free allowance, such as the first 15 minutes of staff time or the first 50 pages of records.

2.  That part where I implied that I wouldn't sue a public body for refusing to transmit records electronically? That's technically not true. The thing is, the violation of the law would have to be severe and egregious, and it would have to encompass more than just refusal to transmit records electronically alone. But there is one particular case - right now - where that is exactly what's going on and negotiations don't seem to be going anywhere. If we don't reach an agreement soon, litigation is imminent. And we will win.

3.  Cities suck at paying normal prices for things. I recently received records on two 8 GB USB 2.0 flash drives. How much did they bill for them? $25. EACH. I asked the city to produce records supporting their actual cost of the thumb drives, and sure enough they were able to do it. They actually pay $25 a piece for the exact same thumb drive that you can buy in bulk on Amazon for $2.50 each. I think I’m in the wrong business.



The following text was initially at the beginning of this post. It provided some context, but I  it was also in the way of getting right to the point. In case you're interested:

A viewer named "Parts Unknown" recently commented on "You Make Me Stronger!" (With Your Taser...), asking: "1000$ a month, Why?"

Their comment was referencing the blurb you can find at the end of most Real World Police video descriptions. 

You know, the part where I'm like, "You seem to enjoy this content and I do too, but it's a lot of work and it's also expensive. Would you give me some of your money?" [Nine out of ten doctors recommend supporting Real World Police!]

In that blurb I explicitly state that acquiring the exclusive content you see on Real World Police costs well over $1,000 a month. Understandably, that claim has caught the attention of some skeptics. (Most of whom express their skepticism in comments akin to "ROTFL!!! $1k/month?! Maybe five cents!  Real World Liar I hate lier4s!")

I responded to Parts Unknown:

Good question. The answer that you are looking for is that public records are not free, and video records are uniquely expensive. 

There is more to it and I will provide a more comprehensive answer soon. I am going to redact some recent invoices and write an explanation that will, hopefully, bring you up to speed. Hang tight. I hope to have a complete answer for you within 24 hours. 

Edited to add: I take my work seriously and I work hard to live up to the four pillars of the SPJ code of ethics:  

-Seek truth and report it. 

-Minimize harm.  

-Act independently.  

-Be accountable and transparent.  

If I have made a factual claim, I can and will support it. If I can’t, or if I am wrong, I will publish an equally prominent correction.

Just so we are on the same page, you misquoted me. I wrote that costs are “well over $1,000 a month,” not “$1,000 a month.” I stand by what I wrote and will provide the information you need to understand where it comes from.  


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