Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson most recently ruled that body camera footage can be released under the State’s Open Public Records Act and ordered Burlington County to release a partial police body camera video that the county was attempting to keep private.
The video footage requested involved the interactions of a Kevin Lewis with sheriff’s officers who responded to a courthouse altercation in which Mr. Lewis was involved. Judge Jacobson ordered that most of one recording will be provided to Mr. Lewis, and a second recording will be withheld out of privacy concerns. Although Jacobson’s ruling allows partial disclosure of footage for this particular incident, the concern is that it could have far-reaching implications.
Jacobson’s ruling allowing body camera footage to be released under the state’s Open Public Records Act comes after a state Supreme Court decision found that such footage is not subject to disclosure under that same law. Thus, it is likely that Judge Jacobson’s order will be appealed. This will inevitably cause a legal controversy over how much access members of the public can have to body-worn camera footage.
Jacobson found that the records custodian could not deny a request to release body camera footage by simply declaring it a criminal investigatory record. In the Judge’s order, she wrote, “It is hereby declared that the body worn camera audio and video recordings in this matter do not fall within OPRA’s criminal investigatory exemption.”
The court’s decision does not necessarily mean that the public will always receive access to body camera footage. However, it may indicate that law enforcement will not be able to rely on the OPRA criminal investigatory exemption.