Okla. keeps trooper dash-cam videos under wraps

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

TULSA, Okla. — A law passed four years ago puts Oklahoma in the minority of states in this part of the country that close public access to videos shot from dashboard-mounted cameras in highway patrol vehicles.

A survey of regional states by the Tulsa World shows Texas, Missouri and Arkansas all treat state police dash-camera videos as an open record.

In Oklahoma, dash-camera videos were considered public records until 2005, when the Department of Public Safety requested the Legislature amend state law to make all audio and video records closed to the public.

The amendment, contained in a bill with many exemptions requested by DPS, sailed through the Legislature with little fanfare.

The issue came to light a few weeks ago when DPS initially refused to release video of a May 24 scuffle between a trooper and a Creek Nation paramedic. The patrol later released it late on a Friday night.

OHP spokesman Capt. Chris West said the agency requested the audio and video recordings be closed to the public in 2005 largely out of concerns for both trooper safety and the privacy of residents.

“I can assure you it’s not about secrecy; it’s confidentiality,” West said.

Arkansas State Police release its videos to the public after a case reaches the initial court stages, said Bill Sadler, public information officer for the Arkansas State Police.

The Texas Department of Public Safety releases video taken by trooper dash cameras after an investigation has been completed, said Tom Vinger, Texas DPS spokesman.

In Missouri, state officials release dash-camera videos after a case has been adjudicated, a spokesman said.

Kansas has a law similar to Oklahoma’s when it comes to dealing with dash-camera videos.

In Colorado, the issue has not come up yet since dashboard-mounted cameras were just added to four vehicles in the past month.

In Ohio, the State Highway Patrol not only releases dash-camera videos upon a request of the public, they go a step further and make them available on the Internet.

Found under an area on the agency’s Web site called “Dash Cam Gallery,” the videos are popular with the public, said Sgt. Karla Taulbee, a spokeswoman for the patrol.

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