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New Jersey police department releases anticlimactic reports

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  1. Freedom of Information
A New Jersey police department has released the seemingly benign use-of-force reports that were the subject of an open records…

A New Jersey police department has released the seemingly benign use-of-force reports that were the subject of an open records legal battle that cost the city $80,000 and set a precedent for other law enforcement departments statewide, NorthJersey.com reported.

A New Jersey appeals court in November ordered West Milford’s police department to release the reports, which are generated any time a police offer uses force against a citizen, saying the reports are public records and cannot be withheld as criminal investigatory records.

When the police department disclosed a total of 23 use-of-force reports written between 2006 and the first half of 2008, they showed that during that time, no officer used extreme or frequent force, deadly force was never used and officers used a chemical agent to subdue a suspect only once, according to NorthJersey.com.

Attorneys for West Milford had appealed a state trial court’s ruling that the records should be released, arguing that it did not have to hand over the use-of-force reports to open-records activist Martin O’Shea because the documents were records of ongoing investigations and therefore exempt. Furthermore, attorneys said releasing the documents might promote lawsuits and have a chilling effect on how candid officers might be in writing the reports in the first place.

O’Shea died in December before the appeals court issued its ruling. The police department handed over the records to O’Shea’s attorney last week, who then released them to the public.