Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a bill that governs the public release of video from body cameras worn by law enforcement officers.
House Bill 1037, which received bipartisan legislative support, was crafted with input from the media, law enforcement officials and prosecutors. All parties agree that some footage from police body cameras should be available to the press and public. However, unlike dashboard cameras on police cars, body cameras enter the homes and private spaces of residents, creating privacy concerns.
HB 1037 allows for the release of body cam videos with some exceptions. A video can be withheld if it depicts a death, unless that death was caused by a law enforcement officer. It also allows the redaction of incidents of great bodily harm and severe violence, unless the acts were caused by law enforcement. It also allows the withholding of footage depicting nudity, minors, informants, sex crime victims, domestic violence victims, personal information about innocent people and medical information that is not already public. The measure also provides safeguards to protect active investigations.
Fallin said the law strikes an appropriate balance between transparency and privacy concerns.
“The public has a right to know how our law enforcement officers operate,” said Fallin. “This measure provides that transparency without violating individual privacy rights or jeopardizing ongoing investigations.”
The Oklahoma Press Association (OPA) worked on the bill alongside Oklahoma law enforcement agents and district attorneys.
OPA Vice President Mark Thomas said, “Even though it’s a compromise, we supported it because it allows the press to monitor law enforcement; it allows law enforcement to catch and convict criminals; and it respects citizens’ right to privacy. It’s a bill that all parties were trying to be realistic and say, ‘Let’s work together.’ In the end, the public just wants government to work.”
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Chief Rick Adams also offered his support for the legislation, saying it balanced the public’s right to transparency with the need to protect the integrity of investigations as well as a suspect’s right to a fair trial.
“While not perfect, it is a good first step in striking a balance between the transparency we must provide as law enforcement and the integrity of ongoing investigations and prosecution of cases,” said Adams.
HB 1037 was authored by Rep. George Faught and Sen. David Holt. It takes effect immediately.