A divided New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Monday that police videos of an arrest that led to criminal charges against an officer can be shielded from disclosure under public records laws.
The 4-3 ruling found that because there’s no law mandating the recordings be made, they aren’t subject to disclosure.
The case stemmed from an open records advocate’s request for video of an arrest made in Barnegat, on the New Jersey shore, where the town’s police chief had issued an order requiring officers to use the cameras on their car.
The recordings showed an incident in which police officers pursued and arrested a driver who had allegedly eluded an officer attempting a traffic stop. An officer used his police dog during the arrest, which ultimately led to criminal charges.
Those seeking release of the recording argued before the Supreme Court that since the chief had ordered the use of the cameras, the videos were required by law and couldn’t be shielded from disclosure under an exemption for records relating to a specific investigation.
But the court ruled Monday that no state statute gave the chief’s directive the force of law. If it did, they wrote, the exemption could hardly ever be applied.
“The exemption would be limited to criminal investigatory records that are not addressed in any order or instruction from a police chief to his or her officers,” the majority wrote. “In short, the vast majority of criminal investigatory records would fall outside of the exemption for such records.”
In a dissent, Justice Barry Albin wrote that under the majority’s opinion, “the operations of our government will be less transparent and our citizenry less informed, which may lead to greater misunderstanding and more distrust between the public and the police.”
Monday’s ruling came about a year after the court ruled that dash camera video of fatal police shootings should be released.