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OPRA Inquiries Expose Redaction Mistakes in Dover Police Public Records by Dover Focus

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DOVER — During a four-month span, Dover Focus submitted several requests for documents via the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and uncovered that hundreds of items had not been properly redacted, thereby risking the privacy of citizens and potentially exposing the Town of Dover to significant legal challenges.

Frank Cahill, the publisher of Dover Focus, Parsippany Focus, and Morris Focus, boasts a 35-year tenure as an active journalist. Over the years, he has tirelessly pursued investigative journalism, marked by a plethora of OPRA requests directed at various municipalities. These efforts have yielded thousands of records spanning township budgets, ordinances, police accident reports, and a myriad of other documents. Cahill’s unwavering dedication to transparency and his pursuit of public information underscores his commitment to fostering informed citizenship.

OPRA, a state law in New Jersey, empowers citizens with greater access to government records maintained by public agencies. This includes entities such as townships, counties, school districts, and independent authorities. Government agencies are legally bound to respond to requests within a stipulated timeframe, typically within 7 business days.

Dover Focus utilizes the OPRA extensively as part of its reporting and investigative processes.

In an email to the Dover Police Department on January 26 “I wish to draw your attention to the fact that I have submitted three OPRA requests to the police department, with the earliest one dated January 7. However, I have not yet received any response. I believe that the statutory response time has elapsed, particularly for the request dated January 7. Could you please provide an estimated timeline for when I can anticipate a response? For your convenience, I have attached copies of all three requests for your reference.”

I immediately was CC’ed on an email to Dover Police Chief Jonathan Delaney from Business Administrator BettyLou DeCroce that said “Chief, Please advise if your department is answering this request.” Shortly thereafter I received answers to my requests.

Dover Focus submitted a highly significant OPRA request to the Dover Police Department on January 26, 2024. Within three days, by January 29, we received a response.

Contained within the response was 10 pages, which shockingly included at least eight pieces of information that were supposed to be redacted. These included sensitive details such as social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and dates of birth.

On February 14, Focus submitted an OPRA requesting four detailed events. On February 16, I received a response with some of the requested items.  On February 18, Focus resubmitted the February 14 OPRA highlighting all the items that were not received. The police officer body cams of the event were omitted; All police reports, investigation reports, summons, and body cams regarding all unknown persons loitering, drinking in public, open containers of alcohol relating to February 7 at approximately 8:00 p.m. at Merida Transit Plaza Apartments; Video from a police camera located at the corner of Blackwell Street and Sussex Street on Wednesday, February 7 from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. In the February 16 response, we only received three minutes of the video and the requested period was not supplied.  As of this date, March 4, Dover Focus still has not received the footage from the area as requested. After my second request, the other items were received.

On February 21 Dover Focus submitted another OPRA request. It was answered on February 28, within the OPRA response timeline. The OPRA response was a total of 93 Pages. Each document contained at least two items that were supposed to be redacted.  Some of the documents contained information regarding Dover Focus (Morris Focus) and were not redacted.

On February 28, Dover Focus received two responses from an OPRA request from the Dover Police Department. The OPRA response consisted of 51 pages. Included in the pages were 66 items that should have been redacted and not released to the public. Interestingly, some of the items redacted were performed incorrectly.

Redactors must be respectful of the confidentiality of the data to be redacted, mindful of the need to preserve that confidentiality when they identify and redact it, and at all times in the future. Confidential material that should be redacted:

  • Taxpayer ID numbers, social security numbers, and employer ID numbers are redacted by leaving out everything but the last four numbers. For example: xxx-xx-1234.
  • Dates of birth are redacted by leaving out everything but the year. For example: xx/xx/1996.
  • Telephone numbers, home addresses, and email addresses.
  • Children’s names are redacted by leaving out everything but the child’s initials. For example: North West might be redacted as N.W or N—- W—. A child is under 18 years old.
  • Financial account numbers are redacted by leaving out everything but the last four numbers. Financial accounts include credit or debit card numbers, bank account numbers, investment account numbers, and insurance account numbers. For example, you might redact a credit card number like this: xxxx-xxx-xxxx-1234.

Should a request for access to government records be denied, individuals have the right to challenge the decision through legal avenues, either by filing a complaint with the Government Records Council (GRC) or initiating a proceeding in the Superior Court of New Jersey.

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