New Jersey is one of 21 states in which police disciplinary records are confidential, but a bill pending in the state senate aims to change that. The measure would classify police disciplinary records as government records, making them available to the public under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
Introduced in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and several other black men by police around the nation, Senate Bill 2656 is designed to increase the transparency of police departments and expose officers who may be corrupt. For example, Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with killing Floyd, had been the subject of at least 17 misconduct complaints over his career but was reprimanded only twice.
Had the Floyd killing happened in New Jersey, the officer’s history of misconduct would most likely have remained unknown. Current New Jersey law creates a presumption of non-disclosure of police disciplinary records, meaning that a party alleging police misconduct can access disciplinary information only if he or she already knows about the misconduct. This Catch-22 situation means courts rarely allow disclosure, thus preventing alleged victims of police brutality or their families from knowing the full background of the officers involved.
If it becomes law, SB 2656 would make the following law enforcement records available for release:
Complaints, allegations, and charges filed against police officers
Transcripts and exhibits from disciplinary trials and hearings
Dispositions of proceedings
Final written opinions or memos on complaint dispositions and any disciplines imposed, including the agency’s complete factual findings and analysis of the officer’s conduct
Internal affairs records
Agency factual findings, analysis and final opinions on disciplinary hearings
Video recordings of incidents that gave rise to complaints, allegations, charges or internal affairs investigations
Two weeks prior to SB 2656’s introduction on June 30, New York repealed its police record confidentiality law, bringing that state in line with the majority of states that allow public disclosure of these records.
At Barker, Gelfand, James & Sarvas, P.C., our lawyers are closely monitoring the progress of the New Jersey bill. We represent parties on both sides of civil rights litigation, including cases of alleged police misconduct. Please call 609-601-8677 or contact us online to arrange a consultation with our Linwood attorneys.
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Barker, Gelfand, James & Sarvas, P.C. is located in Linwood, NJ and serves clients in and around Linwood, Somers Point, Ventnor City, Margate City, Northfield, Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic City, Pleasantville, Absecon, Pomona, Oceanville, Mays Landing, Egg Harbor City, Port Republic, Brigantine, Longport, We also serve Atlantic, Cape May, Gloucester, Cumberland and Camden counties.
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