After years of secrecy and records denials around the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s vehicular pursuit policy, it’s now available to anyone online.
We applaud the agency’s change of attitude in favor of transparency. The public will be better able to judge the policy’s soundness and whether troopers are following their own rules.
With the move, OHP joins at least 36 other state highway patrol agencies, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office and Tulsa Police Department in sharing pursuit policies publicly.
But, we have to ask, what was the big deal in the first place?
The Tulsa World first asked to review the pursuit policy in 2016. In 14 months — May 2016 to July 2017 — the state saw eight deaths during OHP chases; some victims were innocent bystanders. No disciplinary actions were taken.
Two OHP directors defended the secret using a statutory exemption in the Open Records Act allowing the agency to shield policies of a “tactical nature.” In 2018, a Cleveland County district judge allowed the policy to be introduced in a criminal trial, which resulted in the policy at that time becoming public.
That policy did not show any bombshell revelations. It was a 12-page policy outlining the appropriate use of pursuits and a chain-of-command reporting system.
It appeared to be a reasonable approach. But it cast doubt on the disciplinary action decisions.
Commissioner of Public Safety John Scully started his job in September and announced plans to update the vehicular pursuit policy in February.
The new and newly revealed policy also appears to be a sensible set of guidelines.
Revisions include not allowing pursuits in the wrong direction on roads with four or more lanes or in areas that could cause spin-outs threatening nearby civilian traffic.
It adds more about supervisory roles, required follow-up reviews and dispatch responsibilities.
Scully released the policy in an act of government transparency. Good for him. Lifting that veil was the right decision.
Secrets are bad public policy in general. But in law enforcement, there is an added public safety concern for both officers and residents.
Openness doesn’t resolve that issue, but it avoids magnifying it through the surmises and conspiracy theories that naturally result from secrecy. We applaud the move by OHP to publicize its pursuit policy and urge it to use that model broadly in the future.