- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A collection of recent editorials from Oklahoma newspapers:


The Journal Record, April 20, 2015

Candid cameras, crisis of trust

Luis Rodriguez, Moore, Feb. 14, 2014.

Eric Garner, New York, July 17.

John Crawford III, Beavercreek, Ohio, Aug. 5.

Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 9.

Eric Harris, Tulsa, April 2.

It is a crisis of trust.

One way society maintains trust in law enforcement, or any public body, is through the accountability inherent in an open government. The ability to keep an eye on how public servants are serving the public has changed dramatically; there was a time when the circumstances of a person’s death at the hands of police would have been known only by the recounting in the police report. Now, most people’s cellphones provide full-time access to a video camera that can be deployed in an instant.

Law enforcement officers are now easily equipped with portable, automatic video recorders in their cars and on their uniforms. The recordings can quickly exonerate good officers who stand wrongly accused.

Last year, state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, was instrumental in the passage of several open-government bills, notably one that made dash-cam recordings a record indisputably available to the public. That is as it should be, and the exceptions were reasonable. The bill was hailed by freedom-of-information advocates as a step to the side of accountability and the trust that goes with it.

This year the Legislature started out the other direction, prompted in part by law enforcement officials, including district attorneys. On first pass the bills were terrible, proposing a shopping list of exceptions to the law that, laid end-to-end, could have stretched to Kalamazoo and back. The holes in the cheese would have been so broad that a mouse could not have made a meal of the remainder.

The present version of House Bill 1037 proposes a more reasonable standard. Everyone wants police and prosecutors to have the tools necessary to remove criminals from our midst. A recording from a police body cam that captures a conversation with a confidential informant shouldn’t be available for the world to see. That’s not an issue with a camera mounted in a patrol car, but a body cam goes wherever the officer goes.

The bill will end up in a conference committee, but we are encouraged that it looks like it’s headed for a compromise that keeps the public’s business public without hampering the chore of crime-fighting.

It is a step toward ending the crisis of trust.


Tulsa World, April 19, 2015

Doing right by the crew of the USS Oklahoma, nearly 74 years later

The Pentagon announced last week that the remains of 388 unidentified sailors and Marines who died on the USS Oklahoma will be exhumed for analysis, identification and, when possible, reburial under their true names.

The Oklahoma was one of four active battleships sunk during the Dec. 7, 1941, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. The ambush took the lives of 2,403 U.S. military personnel and propelled the U.S. into World War II.

Some 429 men died on the Oklahoma. After the ship was raised in a salvage attempt, 388 bodies could not be identified. They were taken to the National Memorial of the Pacific Cemetery in Honolulu and buried as unknowns in 61 group caskets.

In the first effort of a new policy, the Defense Department says it will attempt to identify the remains.

Since 2003, the National Memorial of the Pacific Cemetery has obtained DNA samples from the families of 84 percent of those listed as missing from the battleship. It has dental records of 90 percent of the missing.

Once identified, the bodies will be returned to their families “for the honored burial they so richly deserve,” according to a Tuesday memo by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work. The process could take as long as five years, according to Work.

The Oklahoma exhumation is the first in a series of efforts by the military to identify previously unidentified remains.

The new policy will apply to all national cemeteries but not sailors and Marines lost at sea or to remains entombed in ships serving as national memorials. The National Memorial of the Pacific Cemetery alone has the buried remains of 2,760 unidentified service members, 1,988 from World War II and 772 from the Korean War.

The military plans exhumations for any group grave from which it believes it can identify at least 60 percent of the service members. It plans to exhume individual graves if there is a 50 percent chance of making a positive identification.

It is a shame that it took so long for the process to begin. The primary issue was the development of technology and the sample collection process, but there is also an element of bureaucratic inertia involved as was demonstrated in a 2014 investigation by Pro Publica and National Public Radio. After the investigation, the military overhauled the Joint POW MIA Accounting Agency.

The failure to identify bodies fully resulted in years of lingering doubt for many families. Now, most of the closest family members of those in the group graves are likely to have died without ever knowing the final chapter of their loved one’s story.

There is no ignominy in a group burial for the military. The circumstances of war made them unavoidable at times.

But technology now allows identification with great precision, and almost everyone would prefer that war heroes receive an individual resting place with full identification.

We salute last week’s announcement that the Department of Defense is fulfilling its obligation to the fullest possible accounting of the brave military personnel lost in war. Returning remains of the fallen is a fundamental expectation when our nation enlists a young person. It’s good that science and perseverance are allowing the military to fulfill that obligation to these sailors and Marines nearly 74 years later.


The Oklahoman, April 20, 2015

Condition of Oklahoma health lab another example of need to use bond issues

The plight of the state’s public health laboratory should grab the attention of Oklahoma’s lawmakers, especially the many who are loath to consider using bond issues for much of anything.

What should make a new public health lab a priority for lawmakers is that if it were to lose accreditation, the lab would have to cease its work.

The lab, which has been at its current location inside the Health Department building at 1000 NE 10 since 1972, conducts important work for hospitals and medical facilities statewide - everything from newborn screenings to flu tests to communicable disease research. In 2013, the lab received about 194,000 specimens and ran roughly 661,000 tests.

But lab employees work in a building that, as reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove recounted in The Oklahoman last year, is in “a fluctuating state of disrepair, with a failing air conditioning unit, drains that frequently back up and no room to expand.” She quoted a veteran employee who said the building was “basically crumbling from the inside out.”

It’s fair to say little has changed since then. Nor have concerns about the lab potentially losing its accreditation with the College of American Pathologists, which has said the building is “antiquated and poorly designed.” After touring the facility in 2012, a CAP inspection team wrote that the facilities “appear to be at the end of their time and require immediate plans for addressing.”

But those words ring hollow at the Legislature, which generally is reactive, not proactive, when it comes to capital improvements. If the roof of the Health Department were to fall in, then perhaps that would get lawmakers’ attention. Recall last spring when pieces of concrete fell through the ceiling of some offices in the Capitol basement. No one got hurt, but that event helped to finally ensure passage of a bond issue to repair the building.

Conservative members had been saying for the previous many years that their opposition to bond issues stemmed from a reluctance to incur further state debt. “Pay as you go!” many exclaimed, ignoring the fact that they wouldn’t do that to buy a home or an automobile. This stance was exposed as politics, pure and simple, when members quickly signed off on the $120 million Capitol repair plan.

The need for a new public health lab is one of many capital improvements needed in Oklahoma. What should make the lab a priority for lawmakers is that if it were to lose accreditation, the lab would have to cease its work. Health Commissioner Terry Cline would be forced to use other public health labs instead, at a cost of about $9 million per year.

On the other hand, the Legislature would need to appropriate about $5.5 million per year over 10 years to pay off the bond issue Cline is seeking. The annual payout would be lower if the Legislature chose to extend it to 15 or 20 years.

So the state can continue to ignore the public health lab and hope it maintains its accreditation, even as repair costs increase each year, or it can address the problem with a bond issue, which offers an affordable, responsible alternative. As we have noted many times, Oklahoma’s bonded indebtedness ranks among the bottom third of all states. The state can afford to take on more, and should, to address this and other infrastructure needs.


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