The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has declared that city police dashboard camera videos are subject to release under Oklahoma's Open Records Act. This marks a good day for government transparency. Now if only the state Department of Public Safety would embrace the cause.
The Claremore case sprang from 2011 efforts by defense attorneys to obtain videotape and audiotape of the arrest of a client charged with drunken driving. The city balked, arguing the videotape was evidentiary and could therefore be kept confidential. The state Court of Civil Appeals didn't buy that argument and overruled a lower court, declaring “no such exemption” exists in the Open Records Act.
This is common sense. Police have nothing to fear from releasing video of lawful arrests. If anything, it strengthens their case. In the words of Phil Cotten, director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, “If there's nothing to hide, there's nothing to hide.”
If only DPS shared that attitude. After a court ruled highway troopers' dash camera videos were open records in 2005, DPS officials successfully lobbied to have the recordings exempted from open records laws. In 2009, they used that exclusion to initially refuse to release video of an embarrassing encounter between a trooper and a Creek Nation paramedic.