Oklahoma Highway Patrol scuffle puts focus on cameras

PAUL MONIES Published: June 22, 2009
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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 access
Footage 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.


Document
Look at invoices, e-mails, marketing materials and other documents related to video cameras bought by the Department of Public safety
BY THE NUMBERS

$1,409,346

Amount spent by the state Department of Public Safety on new WatchGuard video cameras in the past year.

$3,621,340

Amount spent by the agency on gasoline since July 1.

$671,477

Amount the agency has spent on vehicle maintenance (oil, brake pads, etc.) since July 1.

350

Number of troopers patrolling state highways in Oklahoma.

96,000

Number of miles of road patrolled by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol every year.

Sources: Department of Public Safety;

Department of Central Services

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