Whether it’s a record of an accident report for insurance purposes, an incident report for a court proceeding or a copy of an arrest record, there are many reasons why you might want access to a police report. In New Jersey, with several exceptions, police reports are considered public records and are available under the Open Public Records Act, or OPRA. Public records requests must be in writing and can be made in person, by mail or electronically.
Request the record from the relevant agency, such as the state police, county clerk or municipal clerk that maintains physical custody of the record. If your request is denied, you may file suit in superior court or file a Denial of Access Complaint with the New Jersey Government Records Council.
How to Request a New Jersey Police Report
The OPRA allows anyone to request a government record, including paper records, tape recordings, photographs, emails and more, from the public agency that keeps physical custody of that record. Each public agency is responsible for creating its own system for handling OPRA requests, so where you make your request will depend on the agency where the record is held. Requests must be in writing, preferably using the form provided by the agency, either in person, by mail or through an online portal, if one is available.
Some common portals for police reports include:
- The New Jersey State Police online request form: If you are seeking a record that is maintained by the state police, you can fill out a State of New Jersey Government Records Request Form.
- New Jersey State Police accident report form: There are different online portals to request New Jersey State Police accident reports that occurred on toll roads and non-toll roads.
- The county website for county sheriff’s reports: For example, in Mercer County, you can submit an OPRA request online through the Open Public Records Center/SupportHome.aspx).
- The municipal website for a city or town police reports: For records held by the City of Newark police department, you must mail, fax, email or submit the government records request form in person to the Newark Office of the City Clerk.
Agencies must respond to a record request within seven business days of receiving the request. The agency can accept or deny the request, seek clarification or ask for a time extension.
Reasons for Denial of a Police Report Request
Although police departments must comply with the open records law, the law does contain exemptions to open access. Some circumstances when access to police reports might be denied include:
- If the record pertains to an ongoing investigation, but if the record was created before the investigation began, access should be allowed.
- If the record is made during a criminal investigation, but is not required by law to be kept on file. This generally pertains to notes made by an officer during an investigation.
- If the record identifies victims of a crime. However, crime victims can access their own records.
Additionally, the police may allow access to records, but redact certain information, like Social Security numbers or unlisted telephone numbers. If your request is denied or information is redacted, the agency must indicate the specific reason for denying access.
How to Challenge a Denial of a Police Report Request
If an OPRA request is denied, you can either file a lawsuit in superior court or file a Denial of Access Complaint with the New Jersey Government Records Council. For lawsuits in superior court, you must file a complaint within 45 days of the denial. The court will then schedule a hearing to hear the case.
If you choose to file a complaint with the Government Records Council (GRC), you should fill out a Denial of Access Complaint form. The Council will offer dispute mediation. If mediation does not resolve the dispute, the GRC will investigate the complaint and make a determination. There is no statute of limitations for filing a GRC complaint.
- State of New Jersey: Completing an Online OPRA Records Request
- State of New Jersey: Crash Report Requests
- Buy Crash: Police Crash Reports Search
- State of New Jersey: A Citizen’s Guide to the Open Public Records Act
- Mercer County: Open Public Records Center
- State of New Jersey: Register a Denial of Access Complaint
- City of Newark: Government Records Request Form
- Police image by Zeno from Fotolia.com