A bill removing the Open Records Act exemption for Oklahoma Highway Patrol recordings is headed to Gov. Mary Fallin after the state House approved it today by vote of 76 to 6.
House Bill 2676 also adds audio and video recordings from dashboard and lapel cameras to the list of records that all law enforcement agencies must make available for inspection and copying.
The bill allows those agencies to “redact or obscure specific portions of the recording” that depict or reveal:
- The death of a person or a dead body,
- Any person who is nude,
- Identify minors under the age of 16, or
- Law enforcement officers ”who become subject to internal investigation by the law enforcement agency until the law enforcement agency concludes the investigation.” The unedited recording would become available at the end of the “investigation and disciplinary process” or earlier if the “investigation and disciplinary process
lasts for an unreasonable amount of time.” The bill doesn’t define “unreasonable amount of time.”
Voting against the bill were Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha; Tommy Hardin, R-Madill; Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City; Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow; Wade Rousselot, D-Okay; and Todd Thomsen, R-Ada. Another 19 representatives did not vote.
In May, a state appellate court ruling made public the dashboard camera video and audio of arrests by all law enforcement agencies other than the OHP.
OHP audio and video recordings were public records until legislators exempted them in 2005 at the request of Department of Public Safety and the Highway Patrol. (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.3(1)(h)(3)) That came after an Oklahoma County district judge that year had barred OHP from keeping secret the videotapes of traffic arrests.
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.
This year, DPS and OHP officials supported removing the exemption.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications