N.J. police chief stalls on releasing crime news

Sunday, May 27, 2001

HACKENSACK, N.J. — Hackensack’s police chief, angry at local newspaper coverage, is vowing to wait 24 hours before releasing news about crimes.

A state executive order allows police departments 24 hours to release information, although it says the release should happen “sooner if practicable.”

Chief Charles Zisa says he will wait the full time before responding to information requests from The Record of Hackensack because he does not like its coverage of him and his brother, Hackensack’s mayor John Zisa.

Ironically, the police chief, who is also a Republican state assemblyman, had voted last June to approve a bill that broadens public access to such government materials as police records.

The bill had been championed by the state’s news agencies, which complained that local police departments routinely delayed the release of information — or withheld details altogether.

On May 14, the state Senate approved a newer version of the bill. The Assembly, where the chief still sits, is expected to vote again on the issue.

It was not clear whether Zisa’s stated policy applies only to The Record, or to other media as well. He did not return a call from the Associated Press.

Zisa said The Record angered him with a recent story about controversies during the nonpartisan City Council election, in which his brother was re-elected.

On May 11, the police chief refused to release information about a traffic accident to a reporter from The Record until just before the 24-hour period had passed.

“I’ve just had it with the newspaper,” Zisa told The Record. “The election’s over, and they keep taking shots at us.”

On May 14, Zisa said he was also angered by the May 12 story in The Record that detailed his explanation of why he withheld the traffic-accident information.

A spokeswoman for the state Division of Criminal Justice said the police chief appeared to be violating the spirit of Executive Order 69, issued by former Gov. Christie Whitman in 1997, which determines public access to police records.

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