New Jersey police car videos ruled public records

Vincent J. Grasso Judge - New Jersey police car videos ruled public records

A New Jersey judge has determined that videos routinely captured by cameras mounted in police cars during traffic stops and other law enforcement activities in the state are public records.

The recent decision handed down by state Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso (photo above) means authorities cannot withhold the videos, even if they say they pertain to criminal or internal-affairs investigations.

The judge’s decision involved rulings he made in two similar but separate cases. Both matters involved people who made Open Public Records Act requests for videos of specific traffic stops.

Authorities in both cases denied the requests, arguing that the videos were exempt from disclosure under the law because they were criminal investigatory records. They also argued they were part of ongoing investigations, as well as internal-affairs investigations.

The judge ruled that if police agencies require the regular recording of law enforcement activities, the videos qualify as government records and cannot be shielded if they later become parts of investigations.

The Ocean County prosecutor’s office said Friday it plans to appeal the rulings. It will argue that the automatic release of videos could allow defense attorneys to claim their clients cannot get a fair trial because the jury pool has been tainted.

Officials with the office say they do not oppose the release of the videos, saying it’s more a question of when they should be released. They believe it could harm the judicial process if the videos were released too soon.