The story behind this story starts in the summer of 2017, when New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that the routine forms police fill out every time they use force against a suspect were subject to the state’s public records law. Previously, we had a hard time wrestling them out of police departments during the normal course of reporting daily stories on arrests, police shootings and other incidents.
When the high court said they were unequivocally public records, a colleague had a crazy idea:
What if we requested all of them?
More than 500 records requests and 72,677 documents later, we built the largest statewide database of police use-of-force ever created. Almost immediately after our first stories dropped, state authorities promised to reform how New Jersey tracks police use of force.