An Ocean County Superior Court judge will hear testimony in December on a challenge to the denial of a request under the state’s Open Public Records Act seeking access to what are known as police index files in Seaside Park and Toms River.
The index files contain a wealth of information related to internal affairs complaints against police officers, including the complainant’s name, the officer’s name, the nature of the conduct complained about and a unique control number.
The hearing centering on the two Ocean County communities, which will take place Dec. 11 in front of Judge Robert E. Brenner, has prompted the state attorney general’s office to file an amicus brief in support of Seaside Park and Toms River, in which it is argued that the records should be excepted from the provisions of the Open Public Meetings Act due to an official information confidentiality privilege afforded to law enforcement agencies in certain cases.
Attorney CJ Griffin, on behalf of plaintiff Richard Rivera, argued in a brief filed with the court that his client did not request “the work product of an internal affairs case,” such as complaints, investigative reports, witness statements or other investigative material that would not be public, but rather the index file that provides more general information on internal affairs complaints.
Rivera is known statewide as an advocate for increased access to police records, Griffin said.
“The index file, as well as the other records, are strictly factual in nature and thus the balancing test strongly weighs in favor of making this record accessible,” the brief reads, detailing how Rivera is seeking the access because he wishes to confirm whether statistics issued public on complaints against police departments match the number of actual reports filed.
The brief states that Seaside Park has certified that it did not possess any public records on police complaints, and Toms River conceded that such records, “if they exist,” should have been released but had not been produced.
A full copy of the brief filed by Griffin can be found online, which includes examples of what index files look like. The hearing is scheduled 2:30 p.m., Dec. 11, in Brenner’s courtroom in the Ocean County Justice Complex in Toms River.