¶ 1 Frederick Fischer appeals from the trial court order dismissing his action, alleging that the Department of Corrections (DOC) violated the Public Records Act, chapter 42.56 RCW. Because DOC established that its prison surveillance video recordings provide specific intelligence information whose nondisclosure is essential to effective law enforcement, the recordings are exempt from public disclosure. We therefore affirm.
¶ 2 Frederick Fischer is an inmate at the Washington State Department of Corrections Monroe Correctional Complex. He claims that on November 20, 2007, another inmate assaulted him in the law library, which is located in the Program and Activities Building (PAB). On December 3, 2007, Fischer's counsel faxed to DOC a request under the Public Records Act (PRA) for copies of surveillance video recordings made by specific cameras in the PAB at the time of the assault. DOC eventually denied the request, claiming the recordings were exempt from disclosure under the PRA.[
¶ 3 On June 10, 2008, after DOC denied his appeal, Fischer filed this action for violation of the PRA. The trial court eventually set a show cause hearing for October 14, 2009. After considering declarations from Fischer and Richard Morgan, a former prison superintendent and currently director of prisons division, the trial court dismissed Fischer's claim, concluding that DOC had satisfied its burden of demonstrating the surveillance recordings were exempt from disclosure under RCW 42.56.240(1):
Fischer now appeals.
¶ 4 The PRA requires every state agency to disclose any public record upon request unless the record falls within a specific exemption.[
¶ 5 RCW 42.56.240(1) exempts from public disclosure "[s]pecific intelligence information. . . compiled by investigative, law enforcement, and penology agencies . . . the nondisclosure of which is essential to effective law enforcement."[
¶ 6 On appeal, Fischer does not dispute that DOC is a law enforcement or penology agency, that the surveillance videos constitute intelligence information, or that surveillance videos are essential to DOC's ability to undertake effective law enforcement.[
¶ 7 In opposing Fischer's PRA request, DOC relied on the declaration of Richard Morgan, who stated that surveillance cameras provide intelligence information that is used for prison investigations, prison infractions, and criminal prosecutions and that the electronic surveillance systems, including fixed cameras, were "an essential element of effective control of a population that is 100% criminal in its composition and is accustomed to evading detection and exploiting the absence of authority, monitoring, and accountability." Morgan explained that because DOC does not have the resources to monitor all areas 24 hours a day, the effectiveness of the system depends on preventing inmates from learning its capabilities and limitations:
According to Morgan, providing access to surveillance videos would allow inmates to determine weaknesses and exploit those weaknesses by assaulting other inmates or committing crimes and prison infractions.
¶ 8 Contrary to Fischer's contentions, the images on a monitor do not provide the same information as surveillance videos. As the trial court correctly recognized in rejecting Fischer's claim, real-time images do not reveal which cameras are recording, the hours of recording, the resolution and field of view of recording cameras, or staff members' ability to control specific cameras. Nor do such images reveal which cameras are not being actively monitored, the location of hidden cameras, which cameras are not working, or which camera housings are empty. Consequently, even if the real-time images on the monitor are as accessible as Fischer claims, they provide virtually no meaningful information about the specific recording capabilities of DOC's surveillance system in the PAB.
¶ 9 In construing the "specific investigative records" exemption under the public disclosure act, former RCW 42.17.310(1)(d), our Supreme Court reiterated the requirement that "law enforcement" be construed narrowly, rejecting DOC's suggestion that all prison operations fall within the scope of law enforcement.[
¶ 10 Here, as set forth in Morgan's unrefuted affidavit, DOC's statutory obligations include carrying out the terms of court-ordered
¶ 11 Affirmed.
¶ 12 WE CONCUR: DWYER, C.J., and BECKER, J.