Is your establishment breaking the security camera law?

In Hospitality by Richard Bianco

Security camera systems break down, they need to be maintained, upgraded, and eventually replaced. It’s an inevitability. But, did you know, that if your cameras are not working, you are required to inform the ABC Board?

Chances are you didn’t.

If your security camera system is down, for any reason, the law requires you to inform the Board, in writing, within 10 days of when you knew (or should’ve known) of the issue, and provide proof that the system was repaired. See D.C. Code §25-402(d)(4).

This relatively new requirement was passed without much fanfare, as part of omnibus legislation in 2017. At a time when the Council tweaked many provisions of the alcohol laws and regulations, this is one of the things they added.

To be clear, the security camera reporting provision only applies to establishments that have a security plan.

Notwithstanding, I’ve serious doubts about how well informed licensees are about this sliver of code. I mean sure it’s in the actual law, but, nobody reads that stuff. Moreover, ABRA has not had a training that covered the issue, doesn’t have a publication that addresses it, and since it took effect a year ago, there have been exactly zero (0) cases in which the Board has publicly addressed it. Also, I’ve heard, that the Board has received only about five (5) reports from licensees since the effective date.

I know, I know, “Heard? What kind of nonsense is that? That isn’t citation to a legitimate source.” Well, your right, it isn’t but, I’m not a legitimate journalist, so it’s all you get.

Here is the bottom line, if your security camera system isn’t functioning, the law requires that you inform the Board, in writing.

By reporting broken cameras you are admitting non-compliance with the law

However, the law also requires that you have functioning cameras. So, by reporting non-functioning cameras, aren’t you also admitting to breaking the law? Yes, you are.

Presently, there is no “safe-harbor” provision, so nothing is preventing the AG from prosecuting you with your own statement. As stated above, that hasn’t happened yet. Further, it is my hope that the Board will interpret the provision requiring functioning cameras with some measure of reasonableness. Meaning that they will understand that sometimes cameras break or need to go down for maintenance or to be upgraded and they won’t tag you with a violation whenever that happens. But, as of now, the law does not impose such a reasonableness standard, and that is worrisome.

Given the complete lack of precedent to date, its not clear how the Board will respond to this licensing catch-22. As an owner, the best course of action is making good faith efforts at compliance, and we can argue “reasonableness” if/when it becomes an issue.

If you have questions about your security plan obligations or other nuances of the ABC regulations, make an appointment for a free case evaluation by using my online scheduling tool or simply contact me at your convenience.