NEW ORLEANS – Civil rights groups today hailed a ruling by Civil District Court Judge Ethel Julian ordering the City of New Orleans to comply with a public records request for the locations of the city’s crime cameras.
“Today’s ruling is a win for transparency and our justice system as a whole,” said Katie Schwartzmann, ACLU of Louisiana legal director. “By stonewalling requests for these public records, the City of New Orleans tilted the scales of justice against the accused and tried to keep its crime camera locations secret. We’re thrilled that with today’s ruling, New Orleans public defenders will no longer be denied access to this critical information as they work to ensure a stronger, more effective justice system for all. The ruling also ensures that the government can’t violate the Public Records Law by hiding public information.”
In February, the ACLU of Louisiana and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit against the City of New Orleans over its refusal to provide a map of the city’s 400 real-time surveillance cameras. Though the cameras themselves are publicly visible, the City of New Orleans has refused to comply with a public records request for a map of their locations.
“The court reaffirmed that public records are, in fact, public,” said Jamila Johnson, SPLC Senior Supervising Attorney. “Governments need to be transparent, and that does not change in the face of New Orleans’ choice to engage in wide-spread surveillance of our communities.”
Last year, Laura Bixby, a staff attorney for the Orleans Public Defenders, filed a public-records request for a map of all publicly visible real time surveillance cameras. The cameras are used for a variety of purposes by the city, including monitoring street flooding and traffic. The map would assist Bixby in her clients’ defense because they often contain exonerating evidence, just as potentially incriminating evidence is made available to law enforcement. The New Orleans City Attorney’s Office denied the request, claiming that the records are exempt from disclosure.