The Union County Attorney’s Office is due to release an internal affairs report on former Police Director Elizabeth, who resigned after an investigation revealed he referred to officers who used racist and sexist expressions, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The unanimous decision is a victory for transparency advocates across the state, who have long insisted on greater access to home police files, which departments tend to hide from the public.
CJ Griffin, Hackensack’s lawyer, who argued to publish the records, called it a landmark decision that would have far-reaching implications for the documents to go public.
“This is a major change in New Jersey,” said Griffin, who also represented The Record and NorthJersey.com in public records. “For the first time, we will have access to some reports of internal affairs and will exercise public control over the investigation of police offenses.”
Richard Rivera, a plaintiff represented by Griffin, sued the Union County Attorney’s Office after she denied his request for “all internal affairs reports” about James Cosgrove, who resigned in April 2019 after a district investigation found that he repeatedly used obscene language during the conversation. about employees.
During the trial and subsequent appeal, attorneys for both the prosecutor’s office and the city of Elizabeth argued that publishing the report would jeopardize the privacy of those who had already made statements and reduce the likelihood that whistleblowers would appear in the future.
Although the trial court sided with Rivera, the appeals court said the prosecutor’s office may not report, as the state law on state documents does not apply to internal affairs cases.
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State Supreme Court President Stuart Rabner, who wrote the opinion on Monday, said the court should balance this need for confidentiality with public interest in transparency. In this case, the public interest was just too great, he said.
“As a person from the top echelon of the department, his behavior had the opportunity to influence others and set the tone of the department,” Rabner wrote. “His position could also call into question the department’s internal affairs process and its ability to control itself, as well as raise questions about whether others know what is going on.”
The chairman further said that the public was interested in the reports of the police, “to bring officers to justice, prevent misconduct, assess whether the law enforcement process is working properly, and strengthen confidence in law enforcement.”
The trial court must review the report to make appropriate revisions before it is published, Rabner added.
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
But the Attorney General’s Office welcomed the court’s decision, in a statement by spokesman Lee Moore saying it reflected the office’s position that “additional transparency may be particularly appropriate in outrageous cases of law enforcement violations.”
Rivera, a former West New York City police officer who now serves as director of police at Penns Grove, said the decision opens the door to further transparency and accountability of police by giving the public access to information on allegations of misconduct.
“It’s a huge win for the people of New Jersey,” Rivera said. “Police chiefs need to think that the paradigm has changed, and they need to get into that.”
Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the most important news about those who protect your local community, subscribe or activate your digital account today.