In Virginia, access to police video footage is governed by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3700 et seq.
Under the section of Virginia Code entitled “Police and Public Order,” we can find the definition of a “body-worn camera system.” A “body-worn camera system” means “an electronic system for creating, generating, sending, receiving, storing, displaying, and processing audiovisual recordings, including cameras or other devices capable of creating such recordings, that may be worn about the person.” Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1723.1 (A).
Importantly, no law-enforcement agency can buy or use a body-worn camera system unless the agency has adopted a written policy for the operation of a body-worn camera system that follows “identified best practices” and is consistent with Virginia law and regulations, using as guidance the model policy established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1723.1 (B).
Before you request body camera footage, it can be helpful to first request a copy of this policy.
How to File
Submit a request to the person designated by the agency’s FOIA officer. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704.2. When in doubt as to who that is, call the agency and ask.
Send a request in writing, via email/mail/hand delivery, to the FOIA officer.
The footage must be requested with "reasonable specificity" e.g., date/time/location.
In most cases, Virginia agencies will request a copy of your driver’s license to confirm that you are a Virginia resident (only Virginia citizens can request records under Virginia FOIA).
The agency must respond within five business days of receipt, unless they are claiming the criminal investigative exemption in which case they can respond within 60 days. In their initial response, they can deny, grant, or extend the time to respond by seven days.
Once you have received the response and the records, any appeal should be brought “without unreasonable delay.”
How to Appeal
File a Petition for Injunctive Relief/Mandamus with the General District Court or the Circuit Court of the same county that the law enforcement agency is located in (here’s a template). If the agency is a state law enforcement agency, you can also file in the City of Richmond. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3713.A.3.
Three working days prior to filing, serve a copy of the Petition on the agency. If this three day notice requirement is met, your case will be heard within seven days of filing. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3713.C.
Request your court costs and any applicable civil penalties. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3714.
Attach an “affidavit of good cause” to your petition, sample below (failure to attach this can result in your case being dismissed):
PETITIONER’S AFFIDAVIT OF GOOD CAUSE
I, [NAME OF REQUESTER], being of sound mind and above the age of majority, do aver as follows:
1. I have personal knowledge of all of the facts set forth in this Petition for Mandamus and Injunctive Relief;
2. I incorporate by reference all factual allegations in the Petition;
3. I do hereby attest that they are correct and accurate to the best of my knowledge; and,
4. As such, good cause exists for the filing of this Petition.
FURTHER, the affiant saith not.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA )
COUNTY OF ______________ )
Acknowledged, subscribed and sworn to before me this the _______ day of [MONTH], 2022.
Notary Registration Number:
My commission expires:
This blog is not intended to be legal advice, as the analysis might change depending upon your specific situation. For additional assistance, reach out to Joy Ramsingh, at email@example.com. Joy Ramsingh is an open records, open meetings, appellate advocacy lawyer and the founder of Ramsingh Legal.