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Newspaper pushing for access to police database

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Newspaper pushing for access to police database

  • As part of the settlement in a police discrimination lawsuit, the city of Tulsa must compile a database of police information, which is sealed according to the settlement agreement.

Feb. 7, 2003 — The Tulsa World intervened in a discrimination lawsuit against the City of Tulsa, Okla. to request access to a database that is to be compiled as part of the settlement.

According to the settlement agreement in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in 1994 by a group of black police officers against the city of Tulsa alleging employment discrimination, the city must compile a database tracking officers names, training received, complaints against police officers, pedestrian stops, traffic citations, arrests and other information. But as it stands now, the database will be closed to public inspection.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents police officers, has criticized the settlement and the creation of the database claiming that such information should not be compiled because of a discrimination case.

The city pointed out that much of the information already exists and that creating the database simply centralizes the records.

The newspaper thinks it and the public should have access to that data.

The World proposed to the court this week that most of the database be open to public inspection. The proposal includes a requirement that the database be designed to facilitate public access, so that private information such as social security numbers could be redacted easily without excessive programming costs.

“In Oklahoma we have a problem with the open records act. There is no duty to create a new document under the act,” said Schaad Titus, attorney for the World. “We’re hoping the court will order the city to design the databases in a fashion that will facilitate public access.”

Titus also said that allowing public access to the database will help the community have more information about the settlement.

“It is important for city [residents] to understand what has happened and have them believe the settlement is good for the city, to unite the city rather than divide the city,” Titus said. “If you don’t have public access, you’ll have no way to understand.”

(Johnson v. City of Tulsa; Media counsel: Schaad Titus, firm, Tulsa, Okla.) JL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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