Right to inspect includes right to copies of public records

The city of Norman's contention that the public has no right to copies of police records is contradicted by an attorney general opinion emphasizing that the right to inspect under the Oklahoma Open Records Act includes the right to copies of those records. Norman police are willing to show reporters the surveillance video of an incident that resulted in University of Oklahoma football player Joe Mixon facing a misdemeanor charge of an act resulting in gross injury.

But reporters can't record the video and copies won't be made available.

An assistant city attorney told reporters today that the public is only entitled to inspect law enforcement records because the current statute states, “Law enforcement agencies shall make available for public inspection, if kept, the following records:…” (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.8(A))

“Section 24A.8 does not require that these records be made open for public “copying,”  Rickey J. Knighton II wrote to a reporter requesting a copy of the Mixon video.

But that public inspection includes the right to "take copies," according to a 2006 attorney general opinion.

The opinion explained:

As early as 1944, long before our present Act became law, the Oklahoma Supreme Court in State ex rel. Research Institute v. Nix, 155 P.2d 983 (Okla. 1944) viewed the right of citizens and taxpayers to inspect public records as also including the right to ‘take copies.' This principle, reiterated in Attorney General Opinions 66-292, 76-373 and 80-207, is embodied in the present day Act where it provides, ‘All records of public bodies and public officials shall be open to any person for inspection, copying, or mechanical reproduction during regular business hours[.]' (2006 OK AG 25, citing Okla. Stat. tit. 51,  § 24A.5(A))

A 1980 opinion had emphasized that "[a]ll other 'citizens and taxpayers of this State, and its subdivisions' have the right to inspection …." (1980 OK AG 207, ¶ 4)

"A 'proper manner' of inspection of public records has been held to include making copies of the documents," that opinion noted. (Id.)

So, Knighton's assertion that the public -- including reporters -- aren't entitled to copies of the Mixon video is incorrect.

It's also wrong because, as I pointed out earlier this evening, two other Oklahoma attorney general opinions have said law enforcement records must be made available for copying.

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. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.