Bill would remove exemption for OHP dash cam video but add exemptions for all law enforcement recordings
Oklahoma Highway Patrol dash cam videos would be public records again under a bill up for consideration by a state Senate committee Wednesday morning. The proposed committee substitute for SB 1513 would add audio and video from all law enforcement vehicles and officers to the list of records that must be made public.
However, law enforcement agencies would be allowed to "redact or obscure specific portions of the recording which depict the death of a person or a dead body, depict any person who is nude or identify minors under the age of sixteen (16) years."
Agencies also could "redact or obscure specific portions of … recordings depicting law enforcement officers who become subject to internal investigation by the law enforcement agency...." The full recording would become public "at the conclusion of the investigation and disciplinary process."
The state Department of Public Safety’s audio and video recordings were public records until legislators exempted them in 2005 at the request of DPS and the Highway Patrol. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.3(1)(h)(3))
Removing that exemption and adding specific exemptions for law enforcement recordings might mollify local agencies seeking to have their recordings closed. A state appellate court ruled in May that their dashboard camera video and audio of arrests are public records.
Legislation in 2010 and 2011 to remove OHP's exemption failed after the bills became intertwined with attempts to exempt government employees’ identification numbers and birth dates.
A clear and compelling public interest exists for making law enforcement recordings open for inspection. Access to police dash cam videos in other states have revealed abusive behavior by law enforcement agents and also exonerated officers of such claims.
Let's hope that this year state legislators undo the damage they did to the public's right to know in 2005.
Joey Senat, Ph.D. Associate Professor OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications
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.