The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

February 26, 2009

New bill would ensure the public's right to know

The Oklahoma public has gained a victory in openness with the state House recently passing a bill that would ensure police must provide incident reports to the public, even if someone is not arrested.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration, and we encourage its passage there.

The problem came up when state labor commissioner Lloyd Fields was detained by Oklahoma City police and taken to a detox center, but police would not release information on the incident because no one was arrested. The Oklahoma City police told the media at the time that since a person was not arrested, they technically could not release information about it.

That flies in the face of the intent of the Open Records and Open Meetings Law. That logic would mean police could prevent the public from learning about armed robberies, burglaries, murders or any other public safety issue that occurs just because an arrest isn’t made at the time of the incident.

The law fixes the language that prevents police departments from interpreting the law any other way than what it was intended.

Incident reports are essential because they alert the public to what law enforcement is doing. The public needs to know what is going on in their communities. Openness prevents law enforcement from acting covertly without the public’s knowledge.

To clarify, this doesn’t mean the police can’t keep some aspects of an investigation confidential. It just means they can’t keep information secret on the incident itself.

The Senate should pass this clarification, and the governor should sign it.

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