This past week the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that dashboard recordings and use-of-force reports generated in connection with the fatal police shooting of a man who led officers on a high speed chase through several North Jersey towns are public records and thus subject to disclosure under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act. The ruling by the Court was uninaimous in the case that was initiated by a North Jersey Media Outlet.
However notwithstanding the foregoing, the Court also ruled that reports involving an ongoing investigation and witness statements concerning the same were exempt from OPRA production and should thus remain confidential. The decision means that the Township of Lyndhurst will be forced to turn over the use-of-force reports which will disclose the identity of the two officers that were involved in the shooting.
Justice Rabner writing the opinion for the Court stated “We conclude that the danger to an ongoing investigation would typically weigh against the disclosure of detailed witness statements and investigative reports while the investigation is underway. Footage captured by dashboard cameras, however, presents less of a problem.”
The mandatory disclosure of documents and recordings such as those in this case is now the current state of the law. One would believe, taking this holding to its logical conclusion, that in addition to dash cam footage, body camera footage and other reports will be accessible once an investigation is closed. This is an important decision that all public safety officers must be aware of moving forward.,