Appellate Division Permits Public Records Access to Police Use of Force Reports Involving Juveniles

02.26.2020

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Appellate Division Permits Public Records Access to Police Use of Force Reports Involving Juveniles

On February 19, 2020, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued a decision Digital First Media v. Ewing Township permitting a newspaper access under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to Use of Force Reports (UFR) involving a juvenile, provided the juvenile’s name is redacted.  A UFR is a form the Attorney General’s Office requires to be filed any time the police employ physical, mechanical, or deadly force against a subject.  The appellant, the publisher of the newspaper, the Trentonian, sought a UFR containing information on the arrest of a 16-year old later charged as a juvenile delinquent.  The police department argued that the disclosure of juvenile delinquent records are governed by a different statute, which requires a motion to be filed with the Family Division of the Court.

The Court held that the redaction of the juvenile’s name from a UFR strikes the appropriate balance between the two statutes – preserving both the minor’s confidentiality and privacy and the public’s strong interest in transparency. The Court emphasized that since UFRs are designed to capture information about the police’s conduct, whether the subject is a juvenile or an adult does not change the need to record such conduct.  Since the remaining information in the UFR is identity neutral (i.e. without comment on subject’s gender, race, and age; whether the subject was carrying a weapon; whether the subject was injured, killed or arrested), redacting the juvenile’s name would adequately protect his or her privacy. The Court nonetheless recommended that the Attorney General consider promulgating a different UFR form for use when the subject is a minor to ensure strict anonymity.

For more information on this decision or public records access, please contact Kathleen Barnett Einhorn, Esq., Chair of the Firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation Practice, at keinhorn@genovaburns.com or Jennifer Borek, Esq., Partner in the Complex Commercial Litigation Practice, at jborek@genovaburns.com.

Tags: Ryan M. SkelleyOPRAPublic Sector LawComplex Commercial LitigationKathleen Barnett EinhornJennifer BorekUse of Force ReportsNew JerseyAppellate Division

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