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Supreme Court to Alleviate Confusion Over Whether Police Dash Cam Recordings are Subject to OPRA

Written by Tara St. Angelo, Esq.

The Appellate Division currently has conflicting decisions on whether police dash cam videos are subject to OPRA (Open Public Records Act).  However, it is anticipated that this conflict will be resolved soon via a decision in the case of North Jersey Media Group v. Lundhurst.

On June 30, 2016, the Appellate Division Ruled in Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor, 446 N.J. Super. 163 (App. Div. 2016) (a published decision) that police dash cam videos are not exempt from disclosure under OPRA as criminal investigatory records.  However, this decision does not have much precedential effect, as it conflicts with the June 2015 Appellate Division decision in North Jersey Media Group v. Lyndhurst.

In Paff, the Appellate Court held that the recordings were not exempt from disclosure under OPRA as “criminal investigatory records” because they were required by law to be made and maintained.  Such holding was based upon an order from the Barnegat Township Chief of Police governing use of dash cams.  The Chief’s directive ordered that dash cams videos be automatically generated whenever the police vehicle’s overhead lights are activated.  However, in the Lyndhurst case, the Appellate Court held that dash cam recordings are not required by law to be made and are, therefore, exempt from OPRA as criminal investigatory records.  The Court in Paff noted this conflict and one member of the three-judge panel (Judge Gilson) dissented, determining that the police chief’s directives were not equivalent to a “law” requiring maintenance of the dash cam videos.          

The appeal in the Lyndhurst case has been pending since December 2015 and oral argument was heard on November 9, 2016. Therefore, it is expected that such decision will be issued in the coming months.

 

Tara St. Angelo, Esq. concentrates her practice primarily in the areas of municipal and land use law. Contact Ms. St. Angelo at Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC at 908-735-5161 or via email.