Public access to all police incident reports restored as of Nov. 1

Police incident reports not involving an arrest are once again open to the public under legislation that takes effect today.

House Bill 1049 rectifies a 2005 amendment to the Open Records Act that police departments interpreted as allowing the release of incident reports only pertaining to an arrest.

No arrest. No report.

Complaints about the new statutory language were ignored until an incident in February 2008 involving state Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields.

Oklahoma City police detained Fields and took him to a detox center after he was suspected of stealing a professional bull rider’s guitar off the stage during a championship after-party.

Oklahoma City police refused to identify Fields as the person detained or release any details about the incident because no one had been arrested.

“"I can't verify that it happened," Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty told The Oklahoman. "If a person is not technically arrested, then we can't release that information or anything about that."

Fields later apologized for the incident.

This past spring, Rep. John Carey, D-Durant, introduced HB 1049 to undo the 2005 amendment.

That previous statutory language allowed police to “prevent the public from learning about armed robberies, burglaries, murders or any other public safety issue that occurs just because an arrest isn’t made at the time of the incident,” The Enid News & Eagle pointed out.

“Incident reports are essential because they alert the public to what law enforcement is doing. The public needs to know what is going on in their communities. Openness prevents law enforcement from acting covertly without the public’s knowledge,” the newspaper said in support of HB 1049.

Under the Open Records Act, police now must make available "a chronological list of all incidents, including initial offense report information showing the offense, date, time, general location, officer, and a brief summary of what occurred." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.8)

As introduced by Carey, the bill also would have required police to make public the "specific address, if known," of the incident and a brief statement "summarizing noninvestigatory observations and facts of what occurred at each incident."

Unfortunately, that additional language did not survive the legislative process.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.