How to Get Surveillance Tapes

Most states only require a public records request to obtain public surveillance footage.

Surveillance tapes are an invaluable part of the justice system. All too often, a criminal would otherwise go unpunished if not for the video evidence. There might not be a corner store in the U.S. without a video surveillance system. Many banks have dozens of cameras capturing every angle of the facility. Getting a copy of a surveillance tape depends on the circumstances. Private entities have no obligation to release surveillance footage. Footage captured by a public entity, such as the police department, is generally a public record and available upon request.

Step 1

Determine if the surveillance tapes were made by a public or private entity. If the tape belongs to a private entity, the only means to gather copies of the footage is to initiate a legal proceeding and issue a subpoena for the tapes. Many times, the police or a merchant will voluntarily release surveillance tapes if they are part of an investigation of a crime.

Step 2

Determine the proper party for records requests for the public entity that made the surveillance footage. The process varies by state. In some states, each police department has an official custodian of records who will answer any written records requests.

Step 3

Complete a formal written records request. The request should list the date, time and place the surveillance took place. The request should also state if the footage should be provided on video tape or on a CD.

Step 4

Take the request to the appropriate police location and attach a check for any fees charged for the footage.

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