Sunday, April 21, 2024
HomeDoverDover Council Addresses Privacy Concerns with Police OPRA Records Handling

Dover Council Addresses Privacy Concerns with Police OPRA Records Handling

spot_img
spot_img

DOVER — Dover passed Resolution No. 96-2024, at the Township Council meeting held on March 12, designating the Municipal Clerk, Tara Pettoni, as the designated “Custodian of Records of the Police Department of the Town of Dover.”

Previously, a Resolution adopted on February 11, 2020, designated the Chief Law Enforcement as the Custodian of Records due to the existence of certain records within the Police Department that civilian employees are prohibited from reviewing.

The new resolution states “for purposes of efficiency and consolidating Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and/or other public records release functions, and in recognition that the Municipal Clerk carries expertise in determining whether certain records are subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act, common law right of access, and/or other mechanisms relating to the release of governmental records, the Mayor and Town Council believe that it is in the best interest to designate the Municipal Clerk as the Custodian of Records of the Police Department.”

During a four-month span, Dover Focus submitted several requests for documents via 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.

“Municipal Clerk Tara Pettoni read the following statement. “At the center of the February 27 council meeting, there was a controversial resolution proposing the removal of Chief Delaney as the Police Records Custodian and having all over requests be submitted directly to the clerk’s office. It is important to highlight that I was the one who requested this resolution go before the governing body as it is one of my core job duties as the municipal clerk pursuant to the state statute.”

“This resolution was not proposed in retaliation but was done to mitigate any legal ramifications to the town of Dover, as well as myself to confirm what is considered best practice when it comes to OPRA.”

“The Labor Council contacted the GRC and spoke with Executive Director, Frank Caruso. Mr. Caruso suggested that “the town run all opera requests through Miss Pettoni as the custodian or that if there is to be a police custodian the police custodian be obligated as a matter of policy to copy Miss Pettoni on all requests responses and inquiries.”

“Additionally, it was advised that, although certain large jurisdictions for reasons of efficiency, designate, sub-custodians, which are held out to the public to handle over requests as certain records. This practice can result in a risk to the named custodian. Regardless of who is appointed as sub-custodian I am still liable for every OPRA request received and responded to.”

Pettoni reached out to the GRC, and contacted surrounding municipalities such as Mountain Lakes, Rockaway Township, Jefferson Township, Denville Township, and Morris Township to inquire about OPRA procedures, apart from one municipality the clerk’s office at these municipalities either assists or handles related OPRA requests.”

“At the February 27 council meeting, Council Member Karol Ruiz spoke on transparency and stated the fastest way to enter transparency is for the police department to handle OPRA directly. We all want OPRA requests to be responded to in a timely matter, but what is more important is the privacy of our residences and other sensitive information.”

“We must prioritize the privacy of residences before we prioritize how quickly we respond to OPRA requests.”

“In discussions with the Police department, I was made aware the police department released, Mugshots and Social Security numbers, which is a major concern not only to the Town of Dover and myself but also to the privacy of the public,” she continued.

Pettoni met with Chief Delaney, Captain Newton, and other members of the Police Department to discuss current OPRA procedures. She was advised by the chief, himself, that they did not ask for this. The Chief made it clear that the department never wanted to be the Custodian of Records, however, they were appointed in 2020.”

Pettoni  said, “The clerk’s office and the police department agreed that all OPRA requests received by the police department will be forwarded to the Clerk’s office and the Clerk’s office will send out the responses.”

“This way multiple eyes are checking for errors in redactions to mitigate sensitive information from being released.”

It was agreed that the police OPRA email will remain active until April 1.

During the transition period until April 1, an automated reply will be generated advising anyone that (oprarequest@doverpolicenj.org) email will no longer be monitored and OPRA must be sent to the municipal clerk (tpettoni@dover.nj.us).

She said, “We were also no longer going to use the OPRA portal on the town website starting April 1.”

“This will streamline the OPRA process and make it as efficient as possible for requests going to one place. The clerks’ office is being inundated with requests, but a crucial part of the issues we are facing, is requests are coming through a variety of places,” said Pettoni.

“On January 1, I took an oath to be the municipal clerk in this town and that is exactly what I am doing,” she said.

Mayor Dodd said “The purpose of this resolution is because our municipal clerk had an opportunity to speak with our chief, and they both agreed that it’s in the best interest to go through the clerk’s office. It doesn’t matter who sends out the response. The bottom line is that it’s Tara’s license. Tara requested this from the beginning, and I supported her then and I continue to support her effort. I said it and I’ll continue to say I don’t think it’s fair for anyone else to release any information under someone else’s license.

Councilwoman Karol Ruiz asked who answers the OPRA request in the Police Department. The Chief? The Captain? Pettoni answered the women in the Police Department.

Before the resolution was voted on, Councilwoman Ruiz stated “Your (Referring to Ms. Pettoni) thorough research of the process and I look forward to ensuring that the Open Public Records Act is respected in our community in concert with our police department and our clerk’s.”


The resolution was approved with Ruiz casting a negative vote, Wittner abstaining, and all other council members along with the Mayor voting in favor.

spot_img
spot_img
Frank Cahill
Frank Cahillhttps://www.frankcahill.com
Publisher of Parsippany Focus since 1989 and Morris Focus since January 1, 2019, both covering a wide range of events. Mr. Cahill serves as the Executive Board Member of the Parsippany Area Chamber of Commerce, Lt. Governor of Division 9 Kiwanis Club of NJ, and Chairman of the Parsippany-Troy Hills Economic Development Advisory Board. Owner of the Morris now app serving small business in Morris County.
RECENTLY POSTED
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img
spot_img

Click on image to read magazine

spot_img

MORRIS COUNTY

Translate »