Public access to police records immediately following fatal force is under determination (New Jersey) by The Supreme Court. The case is poised to, once again, put government transparency under the spotlight. Public access to police records is qualified by what obligations law enforcement agencies are under. The main bone of contention is the naming of police officers engaging in fatal force while on duty. Whether Dash board video recordings of these incidents should be in the public domain or should remain confidential. The appeal, filed Wednesday, by North Jersey Media Group took in 2 hours of oral arguments. Any decision would have far reaching implications in New Jersey. The subject is fuelled by shootings by law enforcement of unarmed Afro-Americans.
North Jersey Media Group’s attorney acknowledged the burden by way of the authority to kill. However public access to police records becomes a compelling issue should events take a turn for the worse. Public appetite for detail is heightened subsequent to fatal injuries. Requests following a fatal shooting of a 23 year old black man (Bergen County) in charge of a stolen SUV information around the shooting was declined. North Jersey Media Group reporters had requested numerous files and dashcam footage around the Ashford case. It was ordered by a trial court judge the information be released.
However last year a state appeals court overturned the ruling and deemed the files were confidential investigative files. That public access to police records carried little weight. The appeals court found the files were did not fall within New Jersey’s transparency law (The Open Public Records Act). It was further argued that the release of confidential files may well jeopardise investigations. Officer safety was also a legitimate concern and names and dashcam footage released in to the public domain could endanger the police. Does the court have the authority to weigh an officers safety which hinges on New Jersey’s public records law.