From CNN's Ronni Berke and Carol Costello
There is no doubt that broadcasting 911 calls on TV exposes operators who make mistakes while handling emergency calls. There are hundreds of examples, like the call CNN aired in 2005 – A frantic parent called 911 to report her violent children were out of control. Here’s how the call went:
Caller: "I just got home from work. They were physically fighting with each other. And they're 12 and almost 14 and the 12 year old is completely out of control. I can't... I physically... she's as big as I am.... I can't control her."
911 Dispatcher: "OK. Did you want us to come over and shoot her?"
The 911 operator later apologized for what he called “a joke.” He was also reprimanded by his superiors, but was allowed to stay on the job.
The question today? Was it really necessary to for the public to hear his faux pas on TV?
Ohio State Senator, Republican Thomas Patton, has the answer to that question. He says, “no.” He feels so strongly about it he’s introduced a bill in the Ohio legislature that would prohibit "radio, television and the internet..." from "playing a recording of" 911 calls.
The bill would allow broadcasters to "read(ing) a transcript..." of the calls. But, if broadcasters violate the law, they’re subject to a 10-thousand dollar fine. Patton says he got the idea from law enforcement officers. They told him airing audio of 911 calls makes people afraid to call 911 to report crime because they fear the bad guy will recognize their voice.
Senator Patton says, “We have to develop the mindset where people can trust that they can contact their law enforcement and not run the risk of having themselves set upon in revenge mode.” According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, about two dozen states restrict or ban public access to 911 tapes.
Among the most restrictive: Rhode Island, Wyoming and Minnesota. That means if you want to hear a 911 call you have to get a court order. “There’s a clear tradeoff here,” says CNN Legal Analyst Jeff Toobin. “The tradeoff is between the individual who calls right to privacy and public's right to know whether the 911 system is working properly.”
Others say 911 recordings should be public. It’s the only way reporters can investigate wrongdoing. Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press, says “if you're a reporter, the only way you can prove that and do a story about it is if you have access to the information that would allow you to demonstrate that to the community.”
Dalglish says releasing a written transcript of a call isn't good enough. Reading words doesn't convey emotion from the caller or disrespect on the part of the operator.
For more information on what states restrict 911 audiotapes, go to www.rcfp.org’s “Open Government Guide.”