The state Department of Public Safety has spent more than $1.4 million in the past year to outfit its patrol vehicles with state-of-the-art digital video cameras. But access to footage from those cameras has been closed to the public by the Legislature at the agency’s request. The cameras figured prominently in a recent skirmish between an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper and a paramedic from the Creek Nation ambulance service. After the latest order of cameras is installed, the Public Safety Department will have 368 WatchGuard DV-1 cameras in its patrol vehicles, spokesman Capt. Chris West said. Each video system costs more than $4,500. The cameras are made by WatchGuard Video LLC of Plano, Texas. That company beat out three others last year, according to a review of bid documents. A Kansas vendor, Digital Ally, had a lower bid at $3,895 per camera but didn’t meet the agency’s specifications. "It installs easily, and they have some attributes that some other cameras cannot meet,” Lt. Col. John Harris, deputy chief and director of the patrol’s transportation division, said of the WatchGuard camera. "It’s all-digital, which is such a plus with storage. It’s an expensive piece of equipment, but you get what you pay for. It’s a good product for law enforcement.”
How they workThe latest cameras begin recording automatically any time a trooper turns on his front and rear emergency lights, West said. Footage is captured from pursuits, traffic stops and other emergency situations. Troopers also can manually turn on the camera in other instances — such as helping motorists or traffic control — where only the rear emergency lights are used, West said. Each of the patrol’s 13 field traffic troops has a supervisor who is responsible for the evidence DVDs recorded by the video systems, he said. Other supervisors review the footage periodically for performance evaluations. "We can’t always get out in the field with our troopers to ride with them,” West said. "The tapes are also the first thing we go to when we get complaints from citizens.” There was some initial hesitancy among troopers when the agency began using in-car video cameras more than a decade ago. "It didn’t take very long for these troopers to figure out that 99.1 percent of the time, they realize that those cameras vindicate them,” West said.
Closing accessFootage from patrol video cameras was exempted from the state Open Records Act as part of a package of legislative changes the agency requested in 2005. The changes followed a state district judge’s ruling that keeping the footage secret was unlawful. Even before the Open Records Act exemption, West said it was standard practice of the public safety department to release dash camera footage only when subpoenaed in a court case. "We got requests all the time from the press for all kinds of things that went on,” West said. "We had troopers who did wonderful things, we had troopers who did bad things, we had pursuits and we still got requests. But it was our practice even before ’05 not to release them.” Still, citing public interest, the agency released footage of last month’s scuffle between trooper Daniel Martin and paramedic Maurice White Jr. West said the only other time he can recall his agency voluntarily releasing video was in the 2003 killing of Trooper Nikky Green in Cotton County. "In our opinion, that was night and day,” West said of the limited release of footage in that case. "We were trying to catch a cop killer.” Ricky Ray Malone was convicted and sentenced to death in Green’s shooting. The state Court of Criminal Appeals later overturned Malone’s death sentence. The Public Safety Department recently denied a request by The Oklahoman to review video footage of a November 2008 incident in Henryetta where a trooper faces a misdemeanor assault and battery charge in the alleged beating of a handcuffed, female suspect. The agency cited a separate open records exemption that prohibits release of records during a law enforcement investigation.
Look at invoices, e-mails, marketing materials and other documents related to video cameras bought by the Department of Public safety