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Should 911 tapes be kept private, or should all be public record?

posted 2/24/2010 7:40:59 PM |
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tagged: phone, news, people, straddle

I saw this article and thought of Bruce's (WoW) latest blog on a recent 911 call

MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Linda Casey dialed 911 and screamed, "Oh, God!" over and over into the phone after finding her daughter beaten to death in the driveway of their North Carolina home.

Later that day, she heard the 911 recording on the local news and vomited.

"This was not only the most painful thing I have ever been through, it should have been the most private," she said in an e-mail.

Because of such situations, lawmakers in Ohio, Alabama and Wisconsin are deciding whether to bar the public release of 911 calls.

Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wyoming already keep such recordings private. But generally, most states consider emergency calls public records available on request, with exceptions sometimes made for privacy reasons or to protect a police investigation.

"Nationally there is a growing concern about the release of audiotapes that don't involve newsworthy people or events - just things that people like to hear because of their sensational nature," said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, which drafted legislation in the state to bar the release of 911 recordings.

"There is a concern nationally that these kinds of things are having a chilling effect on people's willingness to call 911."

Open-government advocates disagree and say that prohibiting the release of the recordings takes away a valuable tool that has exposed botched calls.

For example, a Detroit dispatcher in 2006 scolded a 5-year-old boy for "playing on the phone" while his mother lay unconscious. When police arrived, the boy's mother was dead. In a 2008 call in Memphis, Tenn., a 911 operator asked, "What's your emergency?" then fell asleep.

"It's crucial that we're able to hear how our public-safety calls are being handled," said David Cuillier, chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists' Freedom of Information Committee.

The public release of audio has also led to accolades for dispatchers who have helped save lives, and helped vindicate operators accused of mishandling a call.

In states where 911 calls are made available to the public, news organizations generally make their own case-by-case decisions on whether to air a recording, taking into consideration issues of taste, sensitivity and news value.

"We strongly believe that 911 recordings should be public record because they can reflect on the performance of public agencies," said Thomas Kent, standards editor of the Associated Press. "It certainly can be hard to listen to 911 recordings, and we use them very sparingly on the air and online. Our decision to use such recordings depends primarily on their relevance to important news, not the atmospherics."

WSPA, the Spartanburg, S.C., TV station that aired Casey's 911 call in 2008, apologized a day later and removed the recording from its Web site.

"That 911 call was me realizing my daughter was dead," Casey said. "I did not care to share that with the world and that private moment of grief should never have been used to sell papers, or up ratings."

By D. Hunter
The Columbus Dispatch


Should 911 tapes be kept private and way from the public?

I feel that there are some 911 tapes that need to be kept out of the public such as the mother finding her daughter beaten to death in the driveway. To me, it would have to depend on the 911 call itself to be determined whether or not it would be harmful emotionally to the victim(s) involved.

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Feb 24 @ 8:02PM  
In cases such as Linda Casey's, they should have contacted her about using that tape before just airing it. I couldn't even begin to imagine how she must have felt to have heard that and relive that moment.

Sometimes a little respect goes a long way.

Feb 24 @ 8:28PM  
I think it should only become public if necessary by law. Those calls should be treated like medical records, no ones business but the caller & answerer.

Feb 24 @ 8:49PM  
Playing devil's advocate here........if 911 calls are made private....such as medical records .........a person would need a court order to get them released.........sadly that also means released to the police and attorneys.........what happens in those calls could very well have something in them to help solve murders and such things. Also these calls are going to with the most probability be played in the court room during a trial.........unless the court room is closed (which I believe only happens for underage people) they are going to be public at that point anyway...........and if the case is a big enough sensationalism chances are........that is going to be played on the news.......

Although it was horrible that the woman should have to hear that stuff..........but sadly she is going to hear far worse before this is over............some times its the public watching the news that they come forward with information in solving no I don't think they should make them private.........

Although I do feel that they should be allowed to be played for the public........I also tend to feel the media goes way overboard in reporting...........and the fact that they play it over and over and over .............(and over ) it wouldn't really matter if they made it things like that would be talked about between 911 ppl and than to their families and so on..............its sad, it isn't fair........but its life...................JMO

Feb 24 @ 10:04PM  
They should all be public.All of our government agencies hide way too much from the public; all the way from city to federal government. Keeping the public informed is one way to try and keep them honest. Of, course it is impossible to keep them entirely honest.

Feb 25 @ 12:30AM  
It seems heartless and cold but it is also a public motovational tool. A lot of times people will say "I didn't see nothing" but after realizing and hearing the mother grief they suddenly remember who they saw.

Feb 25 @ 2:38AM  

I agree with Sugar about this.

Feb 25 @ 8:03AM  
I'm thinking it should only be allowed for severe cases. Not when a person finds a dead relative or friend. I mean use consideration for gods sake! Where is our media at? They no longer care about tact its only about $$$$

Feb 25 @ 9:35AM  
Make them public but make it illegal to air or print them without written permission from the people on them, excluding the dispatchers.

Feb 25 @ 1:21PM  
911 !!!!! I hear Straddles becoming an old fart !!!!!

Feb 26 @ 8:11AM  
only time i find a 911 tape should be used is for court evidence other wise it should be kept private its not like the family needs a reminder of that day plastered on the news

Mar 2 @ 9:42PM  
(Catching up on old blogs here), but I think they should be released to the police immediately. They should be released to the public.... after 7 days. That would be long enough that radio & TV will have forgotten them and moved on to something else already.

Mar 18 @ 6:21AM  
Its all public records. Anyone can ask to see,hear,read, and review. There are two arguments. But before I state them I want to say that if it involves the press blabbing things before the family knows, then its wrong.

1) They have to be available. Reason being............... Cops do think they are above the law. They do protect each other. Uduslly because they are doing the same thing.

2) They have to be available to learn from mistakes. From the 911 operators to the officials answering the call. Shit happens and everyone needs to know it happens so all can learn

Again if it is a loser press person then they shouldhave a gag order of a month before they can release it. Not before a family is burying a famly member or that a family hasnt been informed somethign hapened.

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Should 911 tapes be kept private, or should all be public record?