MANCHESTER — Manchester city officials could not provide specifics about the legal questions involving the footage they will capture from surveillance cameras in the downtown and whether it falls under laws governing public records.
In interviews, police and city officials urged a Union Leader reporter to contact a lawyer or another city official for questions about the legal status of such records.
“I can’t say for certain. It’s kind of a gray area,” said Michael Intranuovo, the archivist and records management officer for the city.
Last week, Police Chief Carlo Capano said the Police Department would soon install a permanent surveillance camera in the downtown. He plans to install it in the City Hall area; the camera would look north and south on Elm Street.
A temporary camera is already in place at Elm and Mechanic streets. Capano said a live feed will be transmitted to Manchester police dispatchers, and footage will be recorded.
Meanwhile, civil rights activists have scheduled a rally for 5 p.m. Tuesday to oppose the cameras. Carla Gericke, the former president of the Free State Project and a Manchester activist, said she expects about 30 to 50 people will attend the rally, titled “1984 is not an Instruction Manual.”
“As a Manchester resident, I am concerned about the escalating Orwellian police actions that are taking place without any oversight or input from the community,” Gericke said. She mentioned the cameras, school lockdowns and recent shootout at the Quality Inn.
In a statement, Mayor Joyce Craig said the cameras will be used to monitor potential criminal activity on Elm Street.
"It is important to note these cameras will not utilize facial recognition, nor will they be used to monitor cars. They will be used to assist the men and women of the Manchester Police Department in ensuring one of the most vibrant areas of our city remains safe," Craig said.
The state has many laws that govern public records, including laws that address retention of the records and public access to the records.
For example, the state Disposition of Municipal Records laws lays out various periods of time that a city or town must store records, depending on the record.
City Solicitor Emily Rice said she’s unaware of any law or policy regarding how quickly digital records can be overwritten. She encouraged a reporter to speak to Intranuovo.
She said she did not know whether the footage would fall under the state Right-to-Know law, which gives the public access to many, but not all, records maintained by the government. She would not answer questions about whether she advised Manchester police on legal issues surrounding the cameras.
In an email, police spokesman Capt. Brian O’Keefe urged a reporter to contact a lawyer for answers to some of the questions.
“I am not an attorney, so I would suggest contacting your legal advisor for the newspaper,” he said when asked if the footage would be available under the Right-to-Know law.
O’Keefe said the length of time that the footage will be retained depends on the amount of storage space, and storage space changes on a daily basis.
Several lawyers contacted by the Union Leader said they weren’t sure of the status of the footage as a public record. But they point to some recent decisions and laws:
In 2011, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that Dover police did not have to provide the location, recording capabilities, times of recording, and retention time for recordings of their surveillance cameras. Disclosure of the information, the court said, would risk circumvention of the laws.
In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the Manchester police must provide photographs of civilians that officers stopped and photographed but did not arrest. The court cited the Right-to-Know law.
Earlier this year, a Superior Court judge ordered the Manchester library to release the video of an arrest inside the library, citing the Right-to-Know law. The library policy says video footage is stored for 15 days. Images of people banned from the library are stored for two years.
The 2017 law covering footage from police body cameras can be overwritten after 30 days and must be destroyed after 180 days. Exceptions apply to deadly force, evidence of a crime, or a criminal complaint.
The Disposition of Municipal Records law said non-criminal police files should be retained for three years.