MAKING POLICE VIDEOS PUBLIC

NJ attorneyThe recent ruling by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso appears to allow public access to video recorded police dashboard camera. In 2 rulings issued by the Judge on October 2, 2014, the Court found that the video was not exempt from the Open Public Records Act. Judge Grasso wrote: “The Court finds that the contemporaneous recording of a traffic stop by a police dash cam that was required to be maintained and activated is not exempt”.

In view of the recent publicly viewed videos showing police shootings of what appears to be unarmed motorists attempting to comply with police requests for license and registration information, this seems like a victory for civil rights and individual rights.

In my experience as a practitioner however, it is often a pyrrhic victory. While I frequently receive video footage of a stop and arrest in my regular request for discovery on DWI maters, I often find that the video shows very little that may enlighten the viewer about the validity of the stop or the onsite testing performed at the scene of the arrest. The HGNT Test, the walk and turn test, the one leg stand and even the approach of the officer to the driver requesting credentials are rarely, if ever, captured on tape. The footage of these essential components of the arrest, however are of utmost significance to the defense of a drunk driving case as well as any abuse of police power exerted during the arrest.

 

Therefore, while I applaud the Court for the ruling and Governor Chris Christie’s recent signing on September 10th of a law that requires dash cams to be installed in new police car purchases or leases, I am cautiously optimistic as to just how much information this will really provide. I think the measure must go further to require police officers to wear body cameras that will record all their activities. This is the only way defense counsel and the public will be provided a true and accurate view of the arrest procedure.