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May 15th, 2009
07:37 AM ET

An end to 911 call replays?

A lawmaker in Ohio wants to ban broadcasters from playing 911 calls.

A lawmaker in Ohio wants to ban broadcasters from playing 911 calls.

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.”


Filed under: Crime
soundoff (160 Responses)
  1. Kelly

    These tapes are funded by taxpayers, who also pay the salaries of those doing the dispaching and the first responders. Translation: We OWN the transcripts, so yes of course we get to hear them.

    And in 99.9 percent of cases, there is absolutely no case to be made related to security issues.

    This isn't opinion, it is fact 🙂

    May 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  2. Tony

    And what did they caller say after his comment? Why didn't they play that part? I would love to hear it.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  3. Ben

    I say AMEN to what Ken said (comment from 9:39am ET). Though I personally don't think media really needs access to these.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  4. Julia Rose

    Bad judgement call to run that "joke" om 2005. There was no purpose.

    And yet, I completely support transparency. I absolutely want anyone who abuses their powers at a 911 line to be subject to public criticism.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  5. Tony

    Oh come on!!! How can you not laugh at that operator's comment!!! It's freakin hilarious!!!

    May 15, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  6. Sid

    911 call records should be made available to public. However, these calls should not be relayed publicly on any media. If anybody needs access to it, he/she should make an official request to obtain it. This way, nobody is hurt.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  7. Jeff

    The only people who should be able to hear a 911 call are Lawyers Judges and Jurrors. Only in a crime should they be played. People are typically at their lowest moment in their life when they dial 911, why sensationalize someones worst day ever. Why make public a recording of a mother requesting an ambulance for her dying child?

    America wants to know whats going on in everyones lives all the time, its about time we sit down shut up and look out for whats going on in our own life for a change. Maybe people would have realized they couldnt afford their million dollar mortgage, or noticed that their child was stockpiling weapons for a school shooting if they werent worrying about somebody elses problems.

    What a bunch of sheep.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
  8. Josh

    I believe they should be public info. Our tax $ pay for it. If you're concerned with revenge based on vocal playback, then distort the voice and be done with it. End of argument. I do not think it should only be transcripts published, you lose; context, word emphasis and the true urgency or lack thereof, in someone's voice.

    If an Operator acts unprofessionally/ inappropriately, deal with the individual(s), don't hide it from the public.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:40 pm |
  9. incognito

    I agree with the Senator. The only reason anyone wants it played it to be involved in the tragic incident so they can rip on people. No one besides who is involved with the call needs to hear it. It's insulting to those who are victims calling in and they are being condascended upon. No one wants their privacy invaded but have no problem being part of someone else's invaded privacy.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm |
  10. operations

    The police are worried about callers being recognized? Since when have any of these calls come out where the caller didn't identify themselves openly? What incidents of the press releasing 911 calls has ever resulted in a caller having their identity exposed when they didn't want it to be?

    The police are simply attempting to exclude themselves from enforcement and oversight. They want the law to not apply to them. They want their misdeeds to not come home to them.

    The only tool the citizens have against police misconduct is openness. But police are seeking to arrest people who photograph them while at work, to video them when they are bad, or who record them during traffic stops or home visits.

    Yet they see no problem of taking such videos themselves, or even taking along a TV camera crew for shows such as "Cops".

    The media and average citizens need the right to record and release any and all interactions between the police and any public official. These interactions aren't private – they are official actions. And if the police are allowed to hide what they did, then they are putting themselves outside the law.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:38 pm |
  11. alex

    In most places 911 recordings are stored for a certain period of time then destroyed or if recorded to digitial drives the recordings may be over-written when the drives get full (usually 60 to 90 days).

    If a request is not submitted in time the recording can be lost forever.

    A defendant has the right to hear the 911 recording and face his accuser at trial (in most cases) so the idea that people will be identified by their voices is of little concern when their faces will be present in the courtroom.

    The path is -> 911 call -> contact by police -> signed affidavit-> identified to suspect during questioning.."Mary saw you do it!"

    Even if the accuser is not present in the courtroom (as in child sexual assualts) the criminal knows who his victim is...

    Just more smoke by law enforcement in their 'us versus everyone else' approach.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  12. Kevin

    Note to Republicans – one thing that got you in trouble for 8 years was passing laws / executive orders that hid things from the American people. Continuing to do this is not going to bring your party back.

    The playing of these tapes is 1st and foremost important to find out facts in what happened in an emergency situation. 911 systems are (as far as I know) fully paid by taxpayers as a service to everyone; darn right they should have to stand up to public scrutiny.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  13. Ron

    What about the woman calling 911, 3 times, about not getting her chicken nuggets? I think, the media needs to decide for themselves, if their action causes revenge to the victim/caller, they can and should be held liable.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:30 pm |
  14. Josh

    For every one tape played on the news to reveal errors made by a 911 operator, there must be 50 played just so the viewers can hear the panicked voice of the caller. "Coming up next – the chilling 911 call from last week's shooting!"

    Obviously, there has to be a balance between the public's right to know, and the public's right to privacy. As other have said, allow callers to decide if the calls should be made public. Lawyers can always subpoena the tapes as evidence, so that's not even an issue.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  15. Katie

    Heres a solution.. Why dont they just make it so that if a 911 call is to be HEARD on tv .. the tv station would have to get permission from the caller???

    May 15, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  16. Sheila

    I fully agree with the ban, not necessarily for the benefit of the operators, but for the victims. I can't begin to express how damaging it is to hear the distress calls being played over and over in the media when you've been on the crisis side of a situation. With them hitting every channel and media outlet, they're practically inescapable, short of living in a cave for weeks (months, years).

    May 15, 2009 at 1:28 pm |
  17. Ronnie

    Voices can be disguised, so it seems like the only reason to restrict the release of tapes is to protect dispatchers. But since they are providing services to the public, just like the police, firemen, etc. why should they be protected from public scrutiny. Only the "victims", the callers, should be disguised and protected. If dispatchers are acting in a professional manner they shouldn't have anything to worry about, and won't be embarrassed.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm |
  18. Alison

    No, I think we (the general public) have no reason to listen 911 calls. The only reason people do is for entertainment and curiosity's sake. I think that only the people that need to hear it should be allowed to. Police, hospital, etc. in order to obtain information. But there's no cause for random people to hear, for example, the last seconds of someone's life in some cases. There's no reason to play any of them either-if you're that hard up for entertainment (with some of the dumb calls) go read a book, watch a movie, or play a game.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  19. c

    Once again a politician wants to hide the failure for someone to perform their assigned tasks in a correct manner. Isn't this the same approach used to hide the shaky deals being performed in the SEC? Isn't this the same thing? We take away the oversight (playing of the tapes) and then we can wonder if the operators are performing their jobs or not. Without the playing of the tapes, I wonder if the individuals supervisors would even be aware of their actions.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  20. Marik Bromine

    The word transparency seems to mean nothing to Thomas Patton. With oversight by public scrutiny, we ensure that negligence and rude, crude, or inappropriate behavior of 911 operators is not permitted to occur, behaviors which could interfere with public safety or the lives that are at stake. If the 911 operators know they are being watched, they will check their desire to abuseively wield their power over dispatching help (life and death).

    May 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm |
  21. Staci

    I feel that 9-1-1 calls should be aired only if the caller agrees to it. I can respect that one may be worried of retaliation depending on what type of call it is, but when a dispatcher handles a call like the guy I just read about then yes it should be aired. No person calling for help should be treated that way. If it was the other way around the caller getting rude or inappropiate responses Im sure the outcome would have been alot worse for the caller then the dispatcher getting a slap on the wrist for being an idiot.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  22. JON

    Two reasons these calls should NEVER be banned. It will keep 911 operators on their best and most PROFESSIONAL behavior. It's tells them if you make stupid, bad or unprofessional comments in a situation that may or may not be life an death it will be heard.

    And, if you ban these calls, then when a really important call turns up and the police need the publics help to identify the person talking on the phone they won't be able to release it without going through a lot of red tape. Making a 911 call public can help solve a crime.

    This lawmaker needs to deal with it and worry about bigger problems then phone calls that let us know stupid people are on both ends of a 911 call sometimes.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  23. Brian

    I agree with Johnny (Ohio) just alter the voice with a filter, but keep the context and emotion of the caller intact.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:20 pm |
  24. Chris Walker

    We should have an expectation that the extremely personal moment at which we contact 911 will not become fodder for the entertainment value of the 24/7 news cycle. Abuses within the system should be reported and transcripst provide an excellent compromise for such reports.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:17 pm |
  25. DC

    I think we should hear them....not to hear negligence on the part of the operator but to hear the stupidity of our population....some of those calls are ridiculous and inappropriate uses of our 911 system.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  26. Todd

    What will be next? Reporters can't interview wittnesses to anything? Figures though, Ohio is the center of bassackwardness in America.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  27. PK California

    I don't think 911 calls should be made public in any way! The people involved are under extreme stress and not always aware of how they're coming across to the operator. Only the authorities should listen to and analize them. The public, untrained, hears what they want to hear, and draw their own conclusions, not always the correct ones. People think they're entitled to EVERYTHING! Some things should remain private, and this is one!

    May 15, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  28. Will

    Unless they are going to give voice prompts that inform people that their call may be broadcast later, the caller has some assumption of privacy. "This call may later end up as joke fodder on America's Dumbest or You Tube. To accept, press 1" Imagine dealing with that when you have an emergency and just want to reach the operator.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  29. Teresa

    What about security issues? During these 911 calls names, addresses, phone numbers are released. Who is to stop a bad guy to break in to your home while you are being rushed to the hospital with your family behind you in the car?

    May 15, 2009 at 1:13 pm |
  30. BILL

    ISN'T THIS SUPPOSE TO BE THE JOB OF A MOTHER TO DISCLIPLINE HER OWN KIDS, NOT THE COPS?!

    May 15, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  31. KLR

    911 calls should be aired. It will let the dispatchers know that they are under scrutiny and that they could be humilitated in public just like they humiliate people who call them for assistance. "Smart mouthed" dispatchers need to be put in their places and brought down a peg or two and know that they cannot get away with saying anything they like just because they dont think there is an emergency. They dont know the feelings of the caller and that person may really fear for their lives.
    What if the lady on the other end had answered "yes, come shoot her"? Then the call would have readily been played with no consequences to the dispatcher but to the mother. Put efforts towards real bills and stop flooding the legislature with the BS.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  32. Deborah

    First of all I think that 9-1-1 operator should have been fired; not reprimanded...someone calls for help and he makes a joke? That was not funny. As for releasing them I think if they do there should be a way to alter the caller's voice so that there can't be any reprisals against the callers. There are too many crazy people out there and if they recognize a caller's voice that got them arrested they could go after the victim again for turning them in. Most important is the safety of the caller because they will not call for help if they think they are not safe in calling. And second; any 9-1-1 operator who dismisses, jokes or insults someone calling for help, regardless of the reason, or whether or not it was a true emergency should be terminated on the spot. They are in a position to help people and using that authority in the way the operator quoted in the story is reprehensible.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  33. Preston White

    We play a 3 second spot out of a 30 year history and want to hang that person.

    Well think about this. The parent is not being a parent when they have to have to police come to control her kids. I bet she was one of those people who did not want to spank their kid when they were little because they did not want to teach them to be violent.

    When I was a kid if we started to fight mom made us get outside. She knew we wouldn't kill eachother. If it got real bad and she thought one of us was going to hurt the other bad she would be between us but she never wanted or needed someone else be the parent. She took care of it. Grow up America and stop asking others to do what you need to be doing for yourself.

    GOOD GOD WHAT HAVE WE BECOME?

    May 15, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  34. norman

    NO! In the USA, the people must suffer under their FREEDOM, so i believe all recordings should be illegal to make at all.. in fact, recording devices should be BANNED IN THE USA, just like everything else.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:10 pm |
  35. gigi

    That person calling in to the police should be ashamed of herself!!Since when should the police be called when she can't even disclipline her own children!! There are people out there with actual EMERGENCIES who need the police's help. People like her need to call their family counselor and not bother the police who have alot more important things to do!!

    May 15, 2009 at 1:09 pm |
  36. Matt

    Whatever happened to Freedom of the Press?

    This country is going to hell in a handbasket.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:06 pm |
  37. Brent

    Playing 911 calls on TV should only be allowed if they are introduced by William Shatner.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:03 pm |
  38. Dan

    Who cares about journalist? Honestly.

    I can't believe anybody fights towards them staying public. Get your flash value news somewhere else, the calls no have business being there.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  39. Matt from NY

    There is no reason that the audio needs to be made public. A transcript is enough to show if the operator made a bad judgment. The only reason why the news media wants the audio is to sensationalize the story.

    Who here hasn't been moved by the screams from 911 calls that were posted in the media.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:59 pm |
  40. jmcgill

    These are very personal and private calls and why should the public be allowed to hear them. It is none of there business what goes on in the 911 office. Is there nothing sacred anymore. Just cause we pay taxes there has got to be some restrictions on what information we are allowe to have. And there calls that go thru to 911 aren't one of them .

    How dare anyone say they want to listing. How low can people sink that they feel they should be allowed in these more horrific moments for most people. How would you feel if you 911 call went over the air for everyone to listed. There is no espect of privacy these day.
    I say BAN IT from the air.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:55 pm |
  41. Carol

    If you haven't noticed..you pay taxes through your phone bill for 911, so yes, they should stay public. However; I believe they need to do a clean sweep of 911 operators as I find they are some of the rudest people on earth. People are calling them for help not to have some rude remark made to them.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  42. Barbara

    Charlie says this is a system paid for by the public, so we should have unfettered access. Well, the Social Security system is also paid for by the public, but your number is not public information. Likewise Medicare – so everyone should have access to your medical records? This is a totally specious argument. The only reason for playing these things on the news or internet is sensationalism. If I had to call 911 because of an accident or some such event, it adds no information for you to know how upset I was at the time. Need some excitement? Go skydiving or something.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  43. J Kennedy

    Transcripts provide all the information needed by reporters and the public. It is in the publics best interest NOT to have the AUDIO broadcasted. We want people reporting crimes. If one person doesn't call because the are afraid of their voice being recognized then that is a problem for all of us. In this age of people being told to not "snitch" we need to do everything possible to make people feel safe doing so.(snitching) We'd have more crimes reported- making us all safer!

    May 15, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  44. Seth

    How comes it's always a Republican who wants to hide things from the public.
    Republicans are always trying to take away come rights or access from the public, and then they say they want limited government, oh the hypocrisy.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  45. Deb parker

    I wonder what percentage of the calls really are even an issue. If you figure that say there are 10 million 911 calls a year (i've no idea the figure but you get the idea). and say even .1% (again i'm just giving you an idea of numbers) are handled badly thats still 1000 calls a year someone screwed up. How many of us can say we havent screwed up 1 out of the last 1000 calls we were on. I konw I sure cant.

    the police have a very valid point, one I never concidered before. VIctems are afraid of being recognized. Maybe the point of this is that we need to stop overreacting to small chances of something happening for the greater good. Do we really have to listen to someone afraid of their life or someone else's often, while another person (often succesfully but sometimes not) trying to calm them down while they get information from them. How many of you really want to have public a call where you are paniced and afraid for what most times is a very valid reason. How many of you want to hear them because you find them funny, find them entertaining. Have we become really that mentally sick of a nation that we have to hear more and more extreme things to be entertained?

    16 out of every 17 articles you read and see are negative. (this is a figure i'm not making up). 1 out of every 17 is EITHER neutral or positive. Stop worring about hearing things to depress you, there are more then enough out there.

    Deb P

    May 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  46. 12345

    I think everyone is missing the point that this legislation is meant to protect the caller, not the 911 Operator. I recently witnessed a domestic dispute in the street while driving home. I immediately pulled over and asked the woman being assaulted if she needed help. I was then verbally threatened by the man that had her pinned to a vehicle. When I called 911, the operator did not ask for my name, but she did ask for my cell number in case the police needed to call me back. I was unable to provide my new cell number and had to provide my phone number instead. I am listed in the phone book and only live a a few streets away from where this incident occurred. I am home alone at night with my small child – I certainly wouldn't want an anonymous 911 call to help a stranger turn into a dangerous situation for me and my family through this type of media exposure.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  47. David

    Its fishy! So there wont be any check and balance ? come on ! Sounds like Microsoft ! What are they trying to hide ? If someone is in danger believe me they will call 911 if there lives is counting on it. Who the hell came up with this idea ?

    May 15, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  48. Argenteus

    Help find out what happened? That's not supposed to take place in a public forum, and rarely succeeds when it does, because the public gets a melanfge of fact and fiction distorted by the ratings and profit concerns of the media. Don't kid yourself – we rarely get the truth, even when they play things like 991 calls straight from the recording. But where we "find out what happened" is in court, with legal respresentation on both sides, and a jury getting the facts as presented and deciding. Playing this stuff in public is just voyeurism and probably should be banned, particularly if there's legitmacy to the claim that playing these on air makes people afraid to call 911. Playing it in court is proper.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:49 pm |
  49. scott451958

    To the cops who respond –with people won't call 911 because thier afraid the criminals will reconginze thier voice– that is obsurd , people that don't call 911 are people that don't want to be involved . The media isn't interested in the cases that go good thier interested in the case that goes bad like the operator who says what do you want us to do shoot her. The only reason a person would not want these tapes aired is to cover up thier mistakes.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:48 pm |
  50. Tim

    The mother did the right thing since the ultra liberals have made it illegal to spank your own children, who else would she call???
    This 911 operator should have been fired. When people call 911 they aren't looking for some lazy idiot to tell them jokes on the other end of the line. This is getting worse every year and now some moron wants to pass a law to hide the incompentcy of our law enforcement.
    Get this guy out of office. He's obviously in someone's back pocket.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
  51. TINA

    I absolutely think we should be allowed to listen to 911 calls. Without hearing the 911 call, you're only getting part of the story.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:42 pm |
  52. Jim

    Well of course they don't want their screw ups known to the public.
    This is the government covering up their incompetance again. Maybe that same 911 operator would never have been reprimanded and in fact should have lost his job for being such an idiot in an emergency situation.
    When the government starts passing laws to protect themselves from incompentcy, we have a real big problem that needs to be addressed at election time. I would say this Senator Patton is in the back pocket of law enforcement and needs to go. These people work for us and are paid by us...not the opposite. A little common sense here should tell everyone what this guy's agenda is. Let's look at who his bank rollers are for the next election.
    Things are geting way out of hand and now they want to pass legislation to put the public even further out of the picture. Sounds more like a dictatorship every day.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:40 pm |
  53. Victim from Indiana

    I was a victim of a high profile crime in Indiana. It was the top story on the news for a week until the guy was caught. During that time, I was horrified to learn that the media was pressing the police to release my 911 phone call. Words can not describe the invasion of privacy I felt. There was nothing in the call that would have furthered their "reporting." They just wanted a sensational 911 call to play on the news so everyone could hear me sobbing for help. As a sexual assault victim, the media would not have released my name anyway, but the mere fact that the media tried so hard to get the call released was sickening. It was not released to the media and was never played on TV for everyone to hear. For that I am thankful. Now whenever I hear someone else's call played, I feel for the victim. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people hearing them call 911 for help on the worst day of their life.

    There is no value in playing the actual tape. If you have a problem with the dispatcher who handled the call, there are other avenues to pursue. Reporters who claim they are looking for wrongdoing are really just looking for something sensational to report.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm |
  54. JJ

    I don't think they should be so liberal with releasing the calls. For example there is case with a woman seeing her daughter being shot in front of her and she's calling 911 and pleading for help. The only reason the news was publishing it for the "shock value". There were no questions about how the call was taken or how the police arrived, the news people were committing how upset she was. In this poor woman's worst moment ever, her words are being played for people entertainment. I think that is wrong, the transcripts would have been enough.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  55. Frank

    I have privacy concerns for the people doing the calling. Sometimes these are just played for ridicule. I don't think the public should have a right to hear these. Often the self-righteous right to know is used to justify the voyeuristic desires everyone seems to have.

    As for the 911 operators, my concerns are a little less, but how would you like a mistake you make at work to be a major news story? I think issues should be handled internally unless a real pattern develops that is not being addressed.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:37 pm |
  56. Allie

    "...it smells like there's been a dead body in the damn car..."

    What would Nancy Grace do without being able to play 911 calls?

    May 15, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  57. Brad

    Can the state hack name an incident where a caller was identified and harmed? usually, the criminal knows who called 911; the person he was hurting!

    May 15, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  58. Bob

    Exactly how does airing them publicly help solve crimes? They are not proposing that police, investigators or supervisors can not listen to the calls to solve crimes or review for appropriate handling of cases. Those of you who are so strongly advocating for them to be aired publicly are doing so out of entertainment interests, not valid societal interests. Airing the calls to the masses does little to serve those interests. Callers who have their calls handled inappropriately can ask to have the calls reviewed by the parties that matter without them being aired by the media for entertainment or "news" purposes.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  59. William

    Amen! It's about time! It is absolutely ridiculous to play people in their private moments of terror or agony for all to laugh and poke fun at. Who wants that? People will just stop using 911 in emmergencies because they don't want themselves ostracized, and they don't want to be the center of a public spectacle. There is only one valid circumstance where I can see it would provide any benefit to the public... that is when people abuse it wasting taxpayers money, when people are found out to be deliberately misusing it by making fraudulent or frivolous claims. For example, something like that lady who put a dead man's finger into her bowl of chili at Wendy's and then turned around and tried to SUE Wendy's because of the finger she had herself put in it, and tried to claim the Wendy's was legally liable to her and owed her millions of dollars in extortion money. Any instances of deliberate fraud like that, if put through the 911 system, should be exposed and prosecuted to the maximum extent of the LAW.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm |
  60. cbirght

    911 Dispatcher: “OK. Did you want us to come over and shoot her?”

    That's just funny.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:31 pm |
  61. Paul

    "Reading words doesn’t convey emotion from the caller, or disrespect on the part of the operator."
    What about the calls where the 9-1-1 operator saves a life? Or where the caller is a nut? The remark in the article shows where this guy's assumptions are. And the press denies being liberal...

    May 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm |
  62. Dave

    It is just a way to protect those incompetent 911 operators. Change does not take place until the public knows and can place pressure on the 911 system.

    May 15, 2009 at 12:23 pm |
  63. Ken

    As a retired manager of a 911 system I can tell you that I never had any fear in providing tapes to the news media because of the actions of my tele-communicators. In Florida, this is a given under the Government in the Sunshine Act. Transparent government is of critical importance. I did sometimes worry that the news media would play segments out of context, but that a risk I was willing to take. I wish the news media could broadcast all of the conversations of our politicians. Don't you think they'd change the way they do their job.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:39 am |
  64. Steve

    Many people are aware of the freedom of information laws, however, most probably are not aware of the security and privacy laws that are essentially exceptions to FOI. I was a police administrator who dealt with these issues for almost 30 years. The only way to handle these FOI requests, is on a case by case basis. In Connecticut, some exceptions to FOI release of information are: identity of informants or witnesses, information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action if prejudicial to such action, investigatory techniques not otherwise known to the general public, arrest records of a juvenile, the name and address of the victim of a sexual assault, or injury or risk of injury, or impairing of morals.

    Police and other public safety agencies must constantly do an analysis of requests under FOI, while also being fully cognisant of laws requiring that certain records remain secure and private.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  65. George Marban

    Regarding the 911Well, here's the thing. Certainly, with logic, we can find resolution to this problem that is taken so far. It is simple.

    1. The most important thing that needs to be observed is that we are Citizens of this Nation therefore the consumers, the human beings, the tax payers, the ones who are right.

    2. It is logical for the 911 calls to be broadcasted without restrictions because of the following reasons.

    a. Transcripts can be taken out of context because it is just black and white and no humor, nor human exppression can be identified in order to properly understand what is being said and felt by either the 911 caller and the dispatcher. For exmaple the dispatcher who answered the caller, "what do you want us to come over there and shoot her?" was expressing humor to make light of the situation. If this were to be read and not heard then that transcript could be used in a manner that is not beneficial to the dispatcher but if the dispatcher can use the recording to properly illustrate that he was expressing humor and can defend him or herself because humor is a human emotion and is understood and can be forgiven, given the fact that humans are the dispatchers.

    b. The moment a transcript or anything for that matter becomes an issue about wether or not to be public in public, at that moment, it is to late, it already belongs to the public. It shouldn't be an issue and just accept your mistake, move on, and try not to keep throwing stuff to the media, and if you ever have any doubt about something belonging to the public then you might be walking thin ground. And you should ask yourself why you are asking yourself that question.

    c.Older transcripts can be studied by the public and some cold cases that went unsolved may actually get some outside help from the public of which does not require a salary or a budget. I'm not saying that a simple recording can solve a case but that it couldn't either.

    That's it for now.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:26 am |
  66. Anthony

    As a supervisor in a 911 dispatching center in a large metropolitan area in Ohio I strongly disagree with the bill introduced by Senator Tom Patton. Our behavior and actions on 911 calls greatly influence the outcome of life or death situations for the citizens we serve. Accountability for our actions in all forumns should be the only deciding factor regarding public oversight. Unless the senator can document instances where disclosure of 911 tapes in public media has endangered the individual initiating the call then this is a misguided bill that will do more harm than good.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:24 am |
  67. carol costello

    Carol Costello again...

    Fab comments. Another thing to consider–remember how the NYT fought for the release of the 9-1-1 tapes from September 11?

    The paper–and a 911 family group–went to court to force NY to release the tapes.

    There was a compromise–only the operator's voices were heard. (unless family members agreed their loved voices be heard as well)

    May 15, 2009 at 8:22 am |
  68. Michael

    Journalists clearly want 911 calls to be public because the sound of a victim in crisis can often plump up an otherwise flat news story. The idea that there should be public access to 911 recordings "so the public can be sure that 911 operators respond to calls in a proper manner" is absurd. There must be a better ways to manage operator performance than playing the sounds of a person in crisis over the tv or radio.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:13 am |
  69. MKMuller

    I was surprised to see that your story on 911 callls focussed on the need to expose 911 operator error. Of course that does occur. Most of the 911 calls played on CNN and other news outlets are not of this kind. They are used to dramatise the news. Think of the plane crash on the Hudson. Days later several 911 calls were played. Why? We already know that the plane had gone down and people were saved due to heroism and good common sense. Playing the calls simply gets people at a gut level.

    If I make a 911 call in a heart-rending situation, I don't want it plastered all over the news to help the media keep more viewers. Transcripts should be enough.

    MKMuller

    May 15, 2009 at 8:12 am |
  70. Calypsolady

    I like Jennifer H."s solution "with the permission from the party calling".

    May 15, 2009 at 8:10 am |
  71. marcella nelson

    open up the conversation. The mistakes that happen can no longer be hid.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:09 am |
  72. Charlie

    MY question on this is is this not a public system paid by public funds through our taxes from the telephone companies and through our local county property taxes? So why then if I or you John Q public or Jane Q publics pays for this why should we not have a visial and audio form of oversight , transcripts are fine but how abot the sight impaired how easy is it for them to have access to them?
    thank you for your time and ear

    May 15, 2009 at 8:04 am |
  73. Zia

    Yet another blazing example of Ohio's "agents of the people" being entirely out of touch with the actual people. I don't know anyone who is afraid to call 9-1-1. I know plenty of people who are terrified of the police. Even I, when calling 9-1-1 for an elderly alcoholic neighbor who had collapsed, was very nervous to make an emergency call knowing that the first "person" to arrive at the scene would be what we've come to call around here – a "wildcard cop." Exposing 9-1-1 calls is as essential as exposing any other kind of incompetency. Unbiased journalism should have no restrictions. For me, it raises a serious eyebrow of suspicion when political people who are out of touch are scrambling with to interject some kind of obstacle to obstruct public viewing.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:03 am |
  74. Calypsolady

    Privacy seems lost these days but some of us still cling to it and it saves lives in criminal cases. I would be afraid to call 911, if I thought my voice would be broadcast. Who wants the public listening in on a frantic, emergency conversation? I'm going to check the laws in my state.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:03 am |
  75. Lisa Bee

    This is BS! We should be able to access ANY and all videos from ANY police department at ALL times. This is why we have so many criminal cops abusing people in EVERY city in the United States. They tamper with evidence knowing NO ONE will do anything to stop them. And they are correct. Our FBI doesn't do anything and no else does either. The press should have access to ALL video, voice recordings as well as access to their digital photos!

    May 15, 2009 at 8:01 am |
  76. Linda Sibley

    I my community we can listen openly to the 911 operators as they call police and fire responders. We can alread figure out where the problem is occuring, what it is and, often, who is likely to be involved. Though it creates a sense of community involvement and sometimes brings additional volunteer aid where needed, I always feel a little like I am peeking into to people's lives.

    Sometimes we can deduce that a mother is calling in a son threatening suicide or that someone is beating up another family member, or that so and so has overdosed, again. This makes me uncomfortable.

    Actually hearing the person who has called 911 goes too far. I can imagine that it might inhibit someone from calling under certain cicunstances

    May 15, 2009 at 8:01 am |
  77. Everett E. Rupert

    I have often wondered what te purpose of re-playing 911 emergency tapes on air was. I don't see any value in hearing another person calling out for help in stressful and/or life threatening situations; however,I hadn't considered someone's voice being recongized calling in to 911, resulting in a revenge motive by some nefarious person. That possibility makes me more against the releasing of 911 tapes to the media. It is not entertainment!

    Read: Books by Everett E. Rupert at your bookstore now!

    May 15, 2009 at 8:00 am |
  78. Yankuba Jambang

    So long as the taxpayers maintain 911 services, and if 'Public Information Act' is to be respected, the public has a right to hear 911 recordings.

    May 15, 2009 at 8:00 am |
  79. Jennifer Hallock

    I feel that the 911 tapes should be public, with the permission from the party calling. If the party says they don't want to make the call public then go to court and fight it out. The 911 system Is a public service, and should be kept public, it isn't like all calls will be aired on Tv. just the important ones.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:59 am |
  80. David

    I think that restricting 911 calls is a bad idea. We do posess the technology to alter the callers voice which would then take care of the concern for the criminal recognizing the caller's voice. The public relies on this system to save lives, act in a professional manner and respond quickly. The examples in this story were perfect examples of why they need to be heard; we need to know that an operator may need further training. Neither incendent in the story were handled professionaly or rapidly. These operators and one that act the same way on the job need to be removed from their position for further training to bring the up to better standards or removed permantly if they can not achieve the standards. The lawyers and government officials that are fighting for the restrictions on these calls are only thinking one way, we need this access to be able to show where there are problems with the system that need addressed.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:59 am |
  81. karen

    Yes........you're calls should not be scattered all over the airwaves. Can't reporters be sanctioned to not make the information public? People should not have to worry about being targeted once they have informed on some illegal activity.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:59 am |
  82. eric

    grammer error before...

    May 15th, 2009 7:57 am ET
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    No, 911 calls should NOT be public. An event that causes a person to call for help is news – the person’s frantic voice is not. The only reason to air them is to exploit the situation for news ratings. As you reported, states which restrict access do have a mechanism by which 911 abuses can be investigated. Any other use is only sensationalism. You guys are supposed to be better than that, right?

    May 15, 2009 at 7:58 am |
  83. Jason Harter

    9-11 calls should not be banned from being aired; if anything, the restriction of not being aired could only apply if the caller wants privacy or discloses private medical information.

    Never merely because 9-11 operators are concered about their performance. 9-11 operators have a job which requires responsibility, and thus anything they say to a caller should be broadcasted. In fact, if they say something unprofessional they deserve to be broadcasted and humiliated; aftter all, how do you think the caller feels.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:58 am |
  84. tony

    The US Constitution was written and assures the rights of individuals and has no mention of rights of organizations (other than the right to assemble) on behalf of individuals. I feel that as such the media/news should have limited access to 911 recordings and the rights of the individuals on these tapes exceeds that of the media and should be protected.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:57 am |
  85. docallen

    Allowing use of transcripts only is ideal solution and protects privacy and gives press access to information. The argument that there is a need to hear actual call is an example of what I call yellow journalism. It is self serving on part of “news” organizations and is being used to play to the ambulance chaser instincts of the public for rating purposes.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:57 am |
  86. eric

    No, 911 calls should NOT be public. An event that causes a person to call for help is news – the person's frantic voice is not. The only reason to air them is to exploit the situation for news ratings. As you reported, states which restrict access to have a mechanism by which 911 abuses can be investigated. Any other use is only sensationalism. You guys are supposed to be better than that, right?

    May 15, 2009 at 7:57 am |
  87. laurie

    i feel it is an invasion of privacy. there are people who wont call if this was public. how sad that would be for those who may lose their life.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:56 am |
  88. Beth Kindt

    I don't think the American Taxpayers need yet another law banning our freedoms. As long as we are complacent and do nothing, the Government will keep trampling our rights. The news media is already censored enough by the Government. If the 911 calls are censored, who will hold the dispatchers accountable? I beg the Washington Fatcats to do something productive, like fixing the broken Social Security System. At what point do my tax dollars start actually working for ME?

    May 15, 2009 at 7:56 am |
  89. Peter

    It makes perfect sense they would want to keep these calls from the public. I wouldn't want my screw ups on the air either. Its a good idea, keep the information from the public eye so that the people never know whats really going on. Its a great play from the republican play book.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:55 am |
  90. carol costello

    Hey, this is Carol Costello. Really interested in hearing your views. Another interesting twist to this story-some experts say Ohio's proposed law is unconstiutional.
    Why? Because it allows people to hear the tape, in private, if they request it–because they are unable to share what they heard with others-well, experts say that makes it unconsitutional. The proposed law should ban the broadcast of 9-1-1 tapes altogether. That's why the law is constitutional in other states.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  91. Raymond Johnson

    I believe that broadcasting 911 calls could put the caller in a position where a perpetrator could seek revenge by identifying the caller's voice.. The media should be satisfied with the transcript and could have access to the audio but be prohibited from replaying the audio on the air or posting it on their web-page.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  92. Joe G

    Seems to me like the simple solution to protecting the privacy of callers would be to allow the callers to decide whether to release the tape, or a transcript, or nothing at all.

    It isn't clear that there's any good reason for dispatchers to have any expectation of privacy. After all, the call could be recorded from the other end.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:53 am |
  93. jessica

    I am a volunteer firefighter, and I believe that 911 calls are invation of privacy. The only time that someone such as a laywer to be able to hear 911 calls is if it is going to trial.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:53 am |
  94. Rick Jerome

    After watching your piece, I believe the best solution is to allow the airing of 911 calls only with the consent of the caller or (God forbid) their next-of-kin.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:53 am |
  95. Leonard Savage

    No and no.
    For me it is no different than watching a killing.
    All I want to know is the facts...ma'am.
    Just the facts without sensationalism.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:52 am |
  96. Dominique Pavageau

    911 calls didn't seem to become a problem until it pointed out negligence. Putting a restriction on the records is handing out a run around to information that plays a significant role in journalism. It seems fishy to me.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:52 am |
  97. Tiffney from Missouri

    Regarding making 911 calls public; this is a tough one. I believe we should be aware of how our calls are being handled. Our tax dollars pay for this service. However, if I had an emergency...I'm doubt I would want it publicized.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:52 am |
  98. johnny (ohio)

    Like most things in life the answer to this is so obviously easy. The phone calls should be allowed to play on t.v,internet, radio; however in order to protect caller identify a simple voice filter could be dubbed over the original callers voice that would slightly distort it.

    I'm sure people have seen similar things on tv shows etc

    May 15, 2009 at 7:52 am |
  99. Meg

    I absolutely think we should be able to listen to 911 calls. If its going to help find out what happened in a case, I think its a must. Invasion of privacy? I'm glad that 911 operator got reprimanded for what he said, that was TOTALLY unprofessional. I don't care if the person is calling for an actual emergency or not, they are trained with how to handle the level of crisis and that was wrong. The instance of the woman dying in the fire is another reason to air them. If people are doing their jobs correctly, they won't be embarrassed by hearing their taped call.

    May 15, 2009 at 7:51 am |
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