Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Are police incident reports subject to disclosure under OPRA?
On November 21, 2012, I filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit against the Borough of Manville in Somerset County. Attorney Richard Gutman is representing me in this lawsuit, which is on-line here.
My suit challenges the Borough's denial of access to police incident reports relating to two men being charged with public consumption of alcohol. The Borough posits that the reports are "criminal investigatory records" and thereby exempt from disclosure. But, OPRA defines "criminal investigatory records" as those that "pertain to any criminal investigation or related civil enforcement proceeding." I believe that this exemption doesn't cover records of investigations of municipal ordinance violations.
Further, the definition excludes police records that are "required by law to be made, maintained or kept on file." The New Jersey Destruction of Public Records Law and the regulations and scheduled adopted under that law require police incident reports to be maintained for a specific period of time. Accordingly, the requirement that police reports be "maintained" take those reports out of the scope of the "criminal investigatory record" definition. This argument has been accepted by the Bergen County Superior Court, which was affirmed by the Appellate Division, in North Jersey Media v. Paramus but was rejected by the Union County Superior Court in Renna v. Union County. Hopefully, my lawsuit against Manville will help clarify this point of law. (Both the Bergen and Union cases are attached as exhibits to my lawsuit.)