April 20, 2021
TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today issued guidance on interactions between law enforcement and the news media during protest events in New Jersey designed to address critical issues of free speech, freedom of the press, and public safety.
The guidance reflects the priorities of a working group formed by Attorney General Grewal in July 2020 after an Asbury Park Press reporter was arrested while covering a protest related to the killing of George Floyd. Based on collaborative input from working group members—including law enforcement officers, journalists, civil rights groups, and prosecutors— the guidance is designed to recognize the rights, responsibilities, and roles of the press and police at protests, while recommending best practices to ensure safe press coverage of such First Amendment activity.
“I commend the working group for its thoughtful recommendations designed to encourage cooperation between law enforcement and the press to uphold First Amendment rights while preserving public safety,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Over the past year, millions of Americans have taken to the street in protest, and their voices have spurred a national reckoning on issues of race and justice. Throughout these protests, police officers have worked to guard public safety—joining at times in emotional acts of solidarity with peaceful protesters—and the press has performed its vital function of enabling the message of protesters to reach all Americans. We hope this guidance will help us keep this public dialogue robust as well as safe.”
The guidance recognizes that journalists have a First Amendment right to report on protests without interference from law enforcement, including a right to record police performing their duties. The guidance notes that while journalists cannot engage in illegal conduct simply because they are reporting on a protest, they often are exempted from curfews imposed during times of unrest. The guidance also emphasizes that police should use restraint in enforcing technical violations, such as obstructing a sidewalk, during First Amendment activity by journalists or protesters.
The guidance directs that law enforcement should never seize a press member’s camera, cell phone, notes, or other journalistic work product or documentary material, except in the exceedingly rare case where it is necessary for public safety or the result of a search incident to a lawful arrest. In addition, it states that officers must never delete such material, and should search these items only after obtaining approval from the County Prosecutor or the Attorney General.
The guidance outlines a number of best practices aimed at avoiding conflicts and facilitating cooperation between the press and law enforcement. Among other things, the guidance:
- Recommends pre-event coordination between law enforcement and the press;
- Calls for police departments to designate a press liaison whom members of the press can contact with issues;
- Urges press to wear clearly visible—ideally reflective—credentials and/or vests during protests; and
- Directs police to conduct refresher training on the rights of the press and the role of law enforcement prior to protest events for officers who will be on duty.
The guidance is posted at: AG Guidance – Press and Police Interactions During Police Protests.
Attorney General Grewal thanked all of the members of the working group, including members of the following organizations:
- American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
- County Prosecutors’ Association of New Jersey
- New Jersey Broadcasters Association
- New Jersey Press Association
- New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists
- New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police
- New Jersey State Police
- New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association