Friday, January 8, 2010

Valley Brook refuses to release police report on detention of Oklahoma City police officer

Valley Brook officials are refusing a television station's request for a copy of a police report on an incident involving an Oklahoma City police officer.

Oklahoma City Detective Chuck Wheeler says he was detained by Valley Brook police for more than three hours last month, according to KOKH-TV Fox 25.

The Oklahoma City station reports that Wheeler is suing Valley Brook for wrongful arrest.

Even though Wheeler was not booked into jail, he asked his own department for an investigation to confirm that he had done nothing wrong. As part of that investigation, Oklahoma City police requested a report on the incident from Valley Brook police.

When Fox 25 reporter/anchor Britten Follett requested a copy of the report from Valley Brook, she was told it was not ready. When she returned several days later, she was told the report was unavailable because the incident was "still under investigation."

Valley Brook City Attorney Bob Thompson later denied her request, claiming the report is not a public record because Wheeler was not arrested and the report is a personnel matter written at the request of Oklahoma City police.

None of the three reasons seems to comply with the state Open Records Act.

No. 1: The statute requires that certain records kept by the law enforcement agency be made available for public inspection and copying regardless of whether an investigation is completed.

Those records include the "initial offense report information showing the offense, date, time, general location, officer and a brief summary of what occurred." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.8(A)(3))

No. 2: Police incident reports not involving an arrest are open to the public under legislation that took effect Nov. 1.

House Bill 1049 rectified a 2005 amendment to the Open Records Act that police departments had interpreted as allowing the release of incident reports only pertaining to an arrest.

No. 3: Valley Brook is claiming the exemption for personnel records, but Wheeler isn't an employee of Valley Brook. The exemption's language clearly applies to records related a public body's own personnel.

Valley Brook police created an incident report. What Oklahoma City officials have done with the record seems irrelevant when the police report is requested from Valley Brook.

State Attorney General Drew Edmondson has emphasized that access to police information does not depend on the record title used by the law enforcement agency.

“The department doesn’t have to call it a jail register. If it is a jail register, then it’s a public record,” Edmondson said in a 2005 video for training police about the Open Records Act. “They don’t have to call it a radio log. If they keep a log of radio traffic, then it’s a public record.”

In this situation, Valley Brook created a police report on the incident. Under the Open Records Act, certain information -- the offense, date, time, general location, officer and a brief summary of what occurred -- must be made available to the public.

By denying access to the public information, Valley Brook officials act as though they have something to hide. If that's not the case, then they are doing a disservice to themselves and their own officer.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Journalism

No comments:

Post a Comment

Differing interpretations of law and policy are welcome. Personal attacks and character assassinations will be rejected.