As reported in the New Jersey Law Journal, New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal made an announcement that police dashcam and body cam videos documenting use of deadly force should be subject to public release once the corresponding initial investigation is complete. According to the press release, the directive is being issued in the interests of “transparency in police community relations,” though it will not go into effect until it has undergone an analysis for compliance with attorney ethics rules.
The Attorney General’s press release states that AG Directive 2018-1 provides that in any case where a police officer uses force resulting in death or serious bodily injury – or where a firearm or other deadly force is used without injury – and video footage of the incident is captured by a body-worn camera or dashboard camera, the investigating law enforcement agencies will presumptively make the video available, upon formal request by a member of the public or media, once the initial investigation of the incident is substantially complete.
While determination as to when the initial investigation is substantially complete is left to the discretion of the County Prosecutor – or Director of the Division of Criminal Justice in cases investigated by the Attorney General’s Office – the initial investigation will typically be deemed substantially complete after principal, material eyewitnesses have been interviewed and the most relevant physical and documentary evidence has been gathered. Generally this should occur within 20 days of the incident.
In cases where it takes more than 20 days to substantially complete the initial use-of-force investigation, the County Prosecutor or Director may decline to release the video footage, but must document the reasons that additional time is necessary and estimate when substantial completion will be achieved, submitting that information to the Attorney General or a designee within the Attorney General’s Office.
Before releasing a deadly-force recording, prosecutors are directed to consult with persons appearing in the video footage or their families in the case of decedents. Where release of the video would unduly compromise the safety or privacy of any person, including any law enforcement officers, the prosecutor may seek approval from the Attorney General’s Office to postpone or decline release of the video. In other cases, the released video footage may be digitally modified to obscure the identity of a person, where that person’s identity has not been disclosed, provided the editing does not conceal any actions by a person constituting a use of force.
In New Jersey, investigations of police-involved shootings and other deadly force incidents are directly overseen by the Attorney General, who acts as an independent prosecutor in such matters. Specifically, these investigations are governed by an Attorney General directive that establishes detailed procedures and safeguards to ensure independent and impartial investigations. With respect to body-worn cameras, the Attorney General’s Office has issued a statewide policy establishing guidelines for deploying such devices for those agencies that elect to deploy them. The Attorney General’s Office also has provided over $4.5 million to enable the New Jersey State Police and other police departments across New Jersey to equip their officers with body cameras.