Legal nuances and hair-splitting notwithstanding, this week’s New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that police do not need to release dashcam videos related to criminal investigations — unless an officer uses deadly force — is a setback for public transparency, goes against the spirit of the state’s Open Records laws and represents a huge blow to freedom of the press.
In recent months, in North Jersey alone, we have seen too many instances of police acting out improperly. While the great majority of officers serve at the highest professional level on a daily basis, recent history shows that sometimes officers will use the force of their badge and uniform to behave in inappropriate ways.
The video recordings add a layer of accountability — and transparency — for all concerned.
“Most of the videos in that category that would either confirm that the officials acted appropriately or dispute that they acted inappropriately are going to be shielded from public view,” said open records advocate John Paff, who filed the lawsuit for the case in question against the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. “And that defeats the entire purpose of why the cameras were instituted in the first place.”
Indeed, the video recorders mounted inside police cruisers — so-called “dashcams” — and the recordings derived from them are meant to protect law enforcement officers as well as members of the public, should the actions of an officer be brought into question. There is no reason to simply deny them across the board. (Read more…)