Earlier this week a New Jersey Appellate Panel issued its decision in Digital First Media v. Ewing Twp. This published decision concerned the required release of police use of force reports (UFR) pertaining to juveniles. While it is well-settled law that UFRs, with limited exceptions, are generally subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law, there remained uncertainty regarding disclosure of UFRs involving juveniles. This uncertainty was brought about by seemingly conflicting law and public policy.
In Digital First Media v. Ewing Twp. the court reviewed the interplay between OPRA and common law disclosure requirements, and court rules and regulations in place that safeguard from disclosure certain UFRs involving juveniles. The court distinguishes between UFRs written by police and those written in the context of the Juvenile Justice Commission–noting that the focus of police-written UFRs is not on the arrestee, whereas UFRs written by juvenile parole officers focus on the juvenile.
The court acknowledges the public policy reasons for ensuring the rehabilitation of a juvenile offender by keeping juvenile parole officer UFRs confidential. It also acknowledges the public policy purpose for allowing disclosure of police written UFRs, even when juveniles are involved. Keeping these two competing interests in mind, the court determined that UFRs written by police even when pertaining to a juvenile, should be released under OPRA but with the juvenile’s name redacted.
This ruling should be shared with your records custodian and police chief, and review with your municipal attorney for further information and guidance on how to proceed when records requests for UFRs are received.
Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., Associate General Counsel, email@example.com, 609-695-3481 x137.