The Oklahoma House and Senate have both given final approval to House Bill 1037 by Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, Rep. Ken Walker, R-Tulsa, Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore. HB 1037 creates a framework in the Open Records Act for the handling of law enforcement videos captured by body-worn cameras. Last year, the Legislature passed legislation that made it explicitly clear that all law enforcement videos filmed by dash-mounted or body-worn cameras would be subject to the Open Records Act, with some common sense exceptions. HB 1037 updates the law to accommodate issues not contemplated before the increase in demand this past year for body-worn cameras.
“Even though it was just a year ago, when we wrote this legislation for dash cams and body cams, we were living in a dash cam world,” Holt said. “Due to very serious recent national events, including incidents here in Oklahoma, the demand for body cams has escalated, and I think we should encourage their use. Part of that is creating an appropriate open records framework. Body cams raise different issues than dash cams. They go into the homes of domestic violence victims, they tape conversations with confidential informants, and so on. With HB 1037 we’ve thoughtfully worked together with all interested parties to balance three fundamental interests implicated by body cams—the public’s expectation of privacy, law enforcement’s investigative needs, and the public interest in providing oversight to the actions of law enforcement.”
“I am pleased with the passage of HB 1037 because we are establishing a new standard of accountability and openness when it comes to open record requests and the use of body cameras,” Faught said. “This legislation enables law enforcement to move forward with confidence as they adopt their own policies. I applaud the tremendous efforts of law enforcement, the Legislature and various press associations that collaborated to ensure safeguards and public transparency are in place. I look forward to the innovations our public safety agencies will pursue as they further enhance their service to the people of our state.”
HB 1037 separates the Open Records Act provisions for dash cam videos and body cam videos into two sections and provides that all body cam videos in the public interest are an open record, subject to common sense exceptions for certain specific reasons. For body cams, these exceptions include: Deaths and severe violence and injuries, unless caused by law enforcement; nudity; the identities of minors, sex crimes victims, domestic violence victims, and informants; personal medical, mental health and detoxification information; personal information about innocent persons; the identity of officers under investigation until the completion of the investigation; and footage that would materially compromise an investigation or an accused’s right to a fair trial, although this last exception is temporary, specifically limited, and requires judicial intervention to maintain.
HB 1037 also corrects a current loophole in body cam and dash cam law that could allow law enforcement to hold back videos that depict deaths even if the death was caused by a law enforcement officer.
Following some stalled efforts earlier this session to address body cam issues, Holt and Faught brought to the table Oklahoma’s law enforcement agencies, the district attorneys, the Oklahoma Press Association, and Freedom of Information Oklahoma, with the intent of crafting a compromise. HB 1037 evolved through negotiations over the last two months and its final version passed the House 81-12 and the Senate 44-2.
“As a retired State Trooper and current chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, I would like to thank Representative Faught and Senator Holt for authoring this very important legislation,” said Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City. “With input from both the law enforcement community and the Oklahoma Press Association, this carefully drafted measure reinforces to the rest of the country that Oklahoma continues to be the standard bearer for responsible government.”