In April 2015, the New York City television station NY1 filed a open-records request for “unedited video files from the NYPD’s body camera program” captured during five specific weeks in 2014 and 2015. Four months later, the New York City Police Department agreed to review and release the footage—but only after NY1 paid a $36,000 “copying fee.” NY1 appealed the N.Y.P.D.’s decision and, in a letter dated September 16 of last year, was once again denied by the N.Y.P.D.’s deputy commissioner of legal matters.
As the New York Post reported yesterday, the details of the N.Y.P.D.’s response, including the exorbitant fee (charged by a public agency with a budget of $4.8 billion*), were revealed in a lawsuit NY1 filed against the N.Y.P.D. in the Supreme Court of New York County on Wednesday. In it, the channel accuses the department of violating New York State’s Freedom of Information Law by inflating the cost of producing the requested body camera footage—a process that, according to the N.Y.P.D., involves copying video segments that could be withheld under certain privacy and security exemptions.
The fee does indeed come from a curious calculation of labor costs. In a letter to NY1 explaining the administrative denial of the channel’s appeal, a police official explained:
The [record access officer]’s estimate of the cost of processing a copy of the [body camera footage] was reasonable based on an estimate that the total time of footage recorded during the five weeks specified in the FOIL request was approximately 190 hours, and that in addition to the 190 hours required to view the recordings in real time, an additional 60% (or 114 hours) will be required to copy the footage in a manner that will redact the exempt portions of the [body camera footage], for a total of approximately 304 hours. The lowest paid NYPD employee with the skills required to prepare a redacted copy of the recordings is in the rank of police officer, and the cost of compensating a police officer is $120.00 per hour. Multiplying $120.00 by 304 hours equals $36,480, which closely approximates the amount estimated by the [records access officer].
It’s unclear where exactly these figures came from. A police officer is the third-lowest rank within the N.Y.P.D.’s rank structure; individuals holding that title make nowhere near $120 per hour, which is the equivalent of $249,600 per year (assuming a 40-hour workweek).
According to the Post, city lawyers had not yet been served with the complaint as of Wednesday night. In an email to Gawker, a spokesperson for NY1 wrote:
NY1 initially submitted a request to obtain video files from the NYPD’s pilot body camera program. The NYPD agreed to provide edited footage, but at a cost that is prohibitive and that we believe undercuts the purpose of our New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. We are appealing their decision.
We’ve asked the N.Y.P.D. for clarification about the $36,000 fee, and will update this post if we hear back. You can read the entirety of NY1’s lawsuit here.
* Correction: This post mistakenly attributed New York City’s municipal budget to the budget of the New York City Police Department. The city’s budget is 78.5 billion, and the N.Y.P.D.’s budget is 4.8 billion. (H/T Matt)