August 22, 2018

Public has no right under state law to review police dash-cam videos


On August 13, the New Jersey Supreme Court narrowly ruled that police dash camera video recordings are not available under state public records law. This means that the public has no right under state law to review police dashcam videos to determine if a police officer acted properly during a high-speed chase or if the officer was justified in using non-lethal force to subdue a suspect.

The court ruled 4-3 that the videos from police vehicles, commonly called dashcams, are related to criminal investigations and they're not required by state law to be made.

The plaintiff, John Paff, a government transparency advocate, stated that he trusted the court’s decision was a “poor one.” Paff said that “since only law enforcement will have access to the videos — which are often used to either exonerate or substantiate claims of excessive force or unlawful motor vehicle stops” — he was “not sure (of the purpose) of cameras anymore.”

“Police aren’t better off by not releasing the evidence,” Paff said. “People want to see evidence, they want to see it for themselves. They don’t want a government official telling them what to believe.”

The verdict still permits for the release of certain videos, but largely welds a common practice among police departments across the state: declining to release any video tied to a criminal investigation, sometimes even months or years after that investigation is closed.

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