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May 15th, 2009
07:37 AM ET

An end to 911 call replays?

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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’s “Open Government Guide.”

Filed under: Crime
soundoff (160 Responses)
  1. 911 Operator should be fired on spot!

    A woman was concerned enough to call 9-1-1. Teenagers can be brutal and abusive because of their hormones. True the mother may have let things slide enough to where her daughter would act however she wanted to, but when they get so big that you cannot "defend" yourself, or control the situation, therein lies the problem. Nothing against the mother whatsoever. I am not attacking the mother at all, but she should be recongnized as a victim and people should realize that if you let things slide for kids while they're younger, they grow up thinking they can do anything they want. If they get angry and feel like slamming you into a wall because you won't let them go out, why not? None of the other tantrums (like throwing things against the wall, slamming doors, shouting curse words) recieved punishment.

    My friend weighed 280 lbs when she was 12, her mother, a mere 125. What do you think the odds are that if they had gotten into a physical fight things would go the mother's way? Even when the situation being that they were virtually the same size, it's still difficult to control the situation, which is why she was compelled to call 911.

    There are tons of teenagers that get physical. How many unstable teenagers do can you think of right off hand? If a mother called 911, chances are it was serious and should be taken seriously. I think the operator should be fired period! America is in a recession and someone like him has a job? If that was all the operator knew before he popped off with his mouth, then her safety could have really been endanger. It doesn't take too long for someone to pick up a knife in an argument and use it. I'm disgusted with this call.

    October 17, 2009 at 12:12 pm |
  2. John211

    Very nice site!

    July 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
  3. Bernice

    Invasion of privacy?? What a joke! Invasion of privacy is just another one of those "rights" that we had in the past which has been highly altered by our govt. to place a "control" on the people. We are just about under full control now! Our rights have been disappearing for a while now, yet now we complain?? Our govt. has been tapping into "OUR" phone calls, emails, texts messeges ...for quite a while now. The president that we have now has intruded on our rights the most! Soon, i feel, we should not have very many rights at all. Alot of other countries have more rights that a US American citizen anymore, yet we were the one born "free". We should put a stop to ALL invasions of privacy, and to ANYONE feeling that they had the "POWER" to alter our constitution in the first place! I feel that a tampering of the constitution should be a case of treason and should be treated as such. This administration will not stop until we have no privacy AT ALL and that they are in FULL CONTROL of you, your families, and every asset that you own. If you support this, then you must support that ALL invaions are simply an assult against our constitutional rights. As i have said ...soon ...we will not have many rights even left. The constitutuion will end up collecting dust in a museum as a part of our nations past history, and nothing more. We as "the people" must ban to stop the tampering with our constitutional rights to begin with.

    May 18, 2009 at 6:07 am |
  4. James

    I don't believe the calls should be broadcast at all. I can think of so many reason but the main reason is in direct response to something in the article, "Others say 911 recordings should be public. It’s the only way reporters can investigate wrongdoing" Sorry, but its not the reporters job do investigate wrong doing, they are susposed to REPORT what is being given to them. The people that investigate these things should be the Internal Affairs division, the command staff, whoever is in charge of the Dispatchers or whoever.

    I also don't think that victims or victims families really need to hear calls of the blood, gore, etc of what happened in a crime, weather or not it be a brutal murder, or a simple car wreck were someone "messed up" driving.

    May 16, 2009 at 5:31 pm |
  5. sLADYee

    I don't think they should broadcast to the general public out of respect for the families. My aunt was murdered and the 911 call was all over the internet. As if my family needed to hear him attempt to turn himself in. I am biased, but w-e.

    May 16, 2009 at 3:09 am |
  6. John

    Since a majority of the individuals on this post seem to believe that if 911 dispatchers have nothing to hide then they should not object to their recordings be replayed. So lets do this, since the roads we drive on are funded by tax payers, every car being driven will have a camera in it and the evidence of your terrible driving is admissable in a court of law. I can only imagine how well that would go. This has nothing to do with the 'safety' of the caller. Things happen. People make mistakes and should be held accountable. However, let each orginization handle its employees. For those of you who are worried about 'corrupt cops' and 'evidence tampering' and would like the callers voice to be covered, the last thing you should want is people 'altering' anything.

    May 15, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  7. Curtis Duvall

    Of course, nobody wants to hear the thousands of calls that get dispatched with the saving of somebodies life.
    The ones that wan't to hear the mistakes are probably the ones
    that read(and prefer to believe) the National Enquirer.
    NO, NO, and NO...
    People that aren't in that position are too quick to point blame and
    pick sides.

    A father of a 911 operator

    May 15, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  8. Frank

    To those saying if you don't here the call you don't get the complete story:

    Why does your getting the complete story trump victims desire for privacy? If you want to be entertained watch TV or rent a DVD.

    Let the victim decide if there is a reason to release the tape, otherwise lets not make a very difficult time for someone to be used for others "need to know". It really is about dignity for crime victims.

    May 15, 2009 at 3:50 pm |
  9. Dmitry

    No. 911 calls are to be handled professionally. Not as something that could potentially turn around and hurt the parties involved. As for the "public replays will help us solve crimes" argument, people have a highly overrated opinion of their inner-sleuth. If the world were filled with Encyclopedia Brown's, there wouldn't be a single issue plaguing mankind today. Yes, make 911 calls available for government parties with warrants. No, don't make a website with a "Hear what you thought was private!" slogan.

    May 15, 2009 at 3:05 pm |
  10. Cmmntr

    It’s interesting that this is coming from a Republican. I wonder if it has anything to the broadcasting of John McCain’s brother making two ridiculous calls to 911 that were broadcast on truTVs World’s Dumbest?

    May 15, 2009 at 3:02 pm |
  11. Ric

    I see no reason for these calls to be censored. It is a serious business. Anyone using it in an unprofessionally (the 911 operator), or for foolish calls should be held accountable. I am tired of politicians wasting time on issues of such little significance. Is this the most important issue this guy could come up with? This country is so out of control. Why don’t we make drug testing mandatory for politicians?

    May 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm |
  12. 911 dispatcher in PA

    911 calls should never be played by media for the entertainment of the public and that is what most people who posted comments here want. Pure entertainment. They may enjoy listening to someone else's tragic events but the wife who was shot to death by her husband during a domestic dispute while on the phone with 911 would disagree. I'm also sure that the mother who awoke in the middle of the night to find her infant not breathing would not appreciate her infants death being your entertainment.


    May 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm |
  13. Andy Foreman

    Oh c'mon – we have reality TV that is nothing like real reality – and 911 calls from brainless Americans unable to formulate a good sentence let alone any common sense in general.

    If you take that away from us, what will all the cable channels be forced to broadcast?!?! Good TV – and Lord knows we dont want any good TV on TV...

    No, we need the idiots to fill up the time slots when American Idol and Lost are not running – please dont take that away – Lord no!!! We might suddenly become an intelligent nation and we sure dont want that!!!

    May 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  14. Matthew Sobel

    Hey folks...Matthew Sobel here. shalom. I think 9/11 calls should definitely be it is entertainment for people and we all need some these days. Inbetween my WJC activities I often watch tv (i'm also an actor)... i love the news events that have this real live stuff. It is very good...except all the crap about New Yorkers..i mean who cares about 9/11 in New York?

    May 15, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  15. Lisa

    Always somebody (some lawmaker) trying to find good reasons to protect a system from appearing to be just as it pretty much is. If anything, they should specify not being able to play 911 recordings in cases where a victim could reasonably expect retaliation. Like when the lady was dying in L.A. and they were busy in King's hospital trying to figure out if she might be a criminal until she died – those people if punished correctly wouldn't be able to "recognize" the voice of the person who called, because they'd be locked up.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  16. Miss J

    The re-playing of 911 calls is to appeal to nothing more than the macbre side of human nature...people want to hear that heart-wrenching call of the mother paniding because she can't find her child, or the woman screaming her ex-husband is after her with a gun...and the media gets higher ratings because of it. So it's all about money. What about the 9/11 phone calls from the Trade Center. I was appalled when they made those public. I don't care what law is in place or some stupid notion that the public "needs to know," if that were my dad or mom or brother calling from there, and the public were to hear their last moments on earth, I'd be pretty upset. It's sick, it's twisted, it's twisted, it's WRONG.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  17. Amanda

    I agree that 911 calls should be aired! That is tax payers money that supports the call centers. I want to know that there is a checks and balance system in place. What better way to be monitored than by the taxpayers themselves.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  18. Ken

    This is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the FCC. The state will be overstepping its boundaries by trying to legislate here and it will fail due to the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. Control over the airwaves is granted exclusively to the FCC and no state may burden that control.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm |
  19. Darryl

    I still think a Union is behind this just to Protect the 911 Operators.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:43 pm |
  20. Erikka (Johnson)Owens

    Come on .... I am starting to really worry about the country I live in, We have already have a crisis in the economy as far as the depression goes, So to many of us we Ourselves have to worry about who ,where and how we are going to fix our own situation since the governement don't have the capacity on how to help out in this tough time .Now we are having to ask questions about should 911 calls be made open to the public Yes!!!!!!! That is what you call an Emergency Situation ....Don't have us to suffer because you can't train your operators properly and when they goof off you want to punish a law abiding,tax paying citizen. I don't know what is going on in this world I am starting to think are these people trained for this job or is the economy this bad that they are hiring students straight out of high school ...(Just to save a DOLLAR)

    May 15, 2009 at 2:43 pm |
  21. William W. Choate, P.E.

    This is in regard to Carol Costello's article on 911 calling and crime.
    I am amazed at how the authorities are able to avoid the spotlight on
    911 calls. You would expect the Open Records Act or Freedom of
    Information Act or even Federal Court Subpoena could access them.
    Example: Seminole County, Oklahoma 911, 2:02 a.m., 7 Jan 07. What
    did that caller say to 911 that caused 9 fire trucks to be dispatched,
    arriving 4 minutes after firefighter pay records show they had been "baby-sitting" for 6 hours the burning of a 28,000, three story kiln designed church building. Talk about domestic terrorism! Can you imagine the screaming, cursing, threatening, heart attacks etc.
    manifest in such a call? Do you know anyone who could publicize it?
    (Call 405-220-2215 or 382-8883 WmChoate, $100 reward is waiting)

    May 15, 2009 at 2:42 pm |
  22. Danielle

    If it's truly an emergency, I can't imagine that someone will make the decision to not call 9-1-1 simply because they fear it will be put on the air. Allowing operaters (who are the public's access to law enforcement) to openly mock people who are asking for help is absolutely unacceptable and should be taken seriously. Calling his "faux pas" a joke is unfair and not an excuse that should have been accepted.
    If identity is such a concern, then disguise callers' voices; otherwise, play us the tapes and allow us to be outraged when citizens are openly mocked by those we should trust. The media is our strongest voice for change.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  23. Schizferatu

    This is just a preliminary maneuver to silence us in the future. The switchboards will be filled up in the coming chaos. They can't have us connecting the dots too quickly. 911 calls will be banned because they dont want you hearing THEIR side of things.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  24. The Otherside of Through

    You only want to hear them until it's your Mother, Sister, or Daughter on the other end of that line and they end up dead and the whole world is listening to her last call or cry for help.

    We are a sick nation. I don't care to hear, see or wallow in other people's misery.

    We should people with their heads blown open, beaten and abused. What signal are we sending our children. Sometimes seeing that mess makes already fragile people more dangerous because we give them ideas.

    I say if you want to hear the tapes...Go to the police station and ask to listen to them but just remember that if they haven't caught the criminal that you are subject. It doesn't take much to sit at the local supermarket amd hear your.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:32 pm |
  25. Joe

    It would seem that the main concern is the safety & privacy of the callers to the 911 network. With all of the voice encription technology redily available to Police & News networks, encription of the "callers voice" would/should address these issues sufficiently without compromising privacy, safety or the audible value of the callers distress...

    May 15, 2009 at 2:31 pm |
  26. Steve

    Of course we should be able to hear it. This stupid law maker and the cops want to hid it because thier stupidity is getting caught and found out.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:30 pm |
  27. Tosha Goodou

    They should replay 911 calls because it informs the public when they are not doing their job i.e. the woman who lost her life. If they were properly trained and did their job right then maybe the tapes wouldn't be replayed as much as they are now.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:29 pm |
  28. Joan

    Absolutely the public should be able to hear the conversation! If the operators think no one will hear they could go crazy with their faux pas' while someone is seeking help. That's what they're there for – to help, not to slap someone verbally for using the 911 system. Clearly the mom of the 14 year old was scared of her own child. Let the guy or gal off with, "oops, my bad – it was a faux pas" if you want to, but I call it intense insensitivity to someone needing help. Add arrogance in there, too. They don't mind releasing the tapes to the public when they do something good, do they?

    May 15, 2009 at 2:29 pm |
  29. Raye

    When I see a comment like "do you want us to come shoot her?", I read it as a way to break the tension, create a laugh and help the caller calm down a little while waiting for someone to assist her. I've worked in customer service/technical support roles for many years and frequently laughter DOES help diffuse emotional moments.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:27 pm |
  30. George Arthur

    I think (hope) a lot of the people making comments here are missing the point of this proposed law. It is not trying to completely restict access to the tapes it is restricting the broadcasting of the actual call. There is no good reason to broadcast a 911 call other then sensationalism to boost ratings. If the operator is doing something wrong you can tell that just as easy by reading the transcript of the tape and the actual tape does not need to be broadcast to the public.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:27 pm |
  31. Neil

    It would be best if we could trust people in charge to determine if a call was fit to be released. But we can't. Releasing calls and the sometimes shocking unprofessionalism they contain is unfortunately the only way we have right now to try and exert some set of standards on 911 operators. The police cannot be trusted. We see that on the news every day. To try to stop the same ugly prejudice used by police infiltrating emergency call operators, public inspection must be allowed.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:27 pm |
  32. Independent Thinker

    There is a simple way to address both the privacy and oversight concerns. Make the general rule that the recording may not be released but provide and exception for situations in which the caller consents. I'm sure the upset callers would gladly consent to releasing the recordings to keep the call centers honest, but this allows those who would not consent to have privacy protection. This is not that hard, people.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm |
  33. Ivan Goldberg

    This is just an audible version of Voyeurism. Anyone who wants to hear these recordings are the same kind of people who would "rubber-neck" to see a gruesome car wreck, or gossip across their neighbor’s fence. Sleazy Americans should just settle for Jerry Springer and be satisfied.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm |
  34. rob e. rein

    but we need to be remain totally anonymous, and dub our voice –

    May 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm |
  35. Amy

    One of the most heartbreaking things I ever heard was a young boy caliing 911 to report that he had found his mommy dead. You could hear him crying and trying to revive her (no foul play, it was diabetes-related). I was so profoundly disturbed to think that for the rest of his life, the fear of that moment can be replayed–the moment he realized he had lost his mommy. What earthly good can it be for me, a total stranger, to hear his private anguish? Callers are in panic and their terror should not be used to boost ratings. No one has a right to that sort of voyeurism–even at car crashes the scene is draped to obstruct the view. Show these poor people a modicum of privacy and respect in their moment of need.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  36. beth

    Why do we NEED to be able to listen to 911 calls? Is there really that much of a problem with dispatchers that we need to have this available to the public?

    We do pay their salaries with our tax dollars, but we pay for their services, not to be their boss. I agree that the public should be able to know what’s going on with the department, but I don’t agree that we need to hear someone's 911 call just to criticize the dispatcher without the permission of the caller.

    I think with a good reason (ie: court) that 911 tapes should be available. But just to have the calls available for ANY person to hear (without the permission of the caller) is going a little far.

    Can anyone honestly say that they would want their 911 tapes available for public release? 911 calls are personal, private, scary, and sometimes tragic moments in people's lives and the possibility of it being broadcast all over the news purely just for a network to boost their ratings is just in bad taste. And the risk it involves to the caller could be substantial.

    I feel like it’s an invasion of privacy to the people calling 911. At one time I unfortunately had to call 911, I know I would never want to see that available to the public to hear as they please and for networks to use it to make money. I do not believe that is fair to me as a citizen. My life should be able to remain private unless I agree to the release.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  37. rob e. rein

    of course 911 should be free to the press – like rodney king, if camera not watching –

    May 15, 2009 at 2:22 pm |
  38. Darryl

    Make Them Public! Do not protect 911 operators who fail to perform their job in a professional manner. If the tapes are never heard I guarentee nothing more than a Slap On The Hand will happen to the Non-Professional operators. I bet there is a Union behind this just to protect its members. Why do we want to protect Stupidity?

    Also its just Human Nature to want to hear "Feel Good" Stories. How many 911 Operators have we considered Heros due to their Absolute Professionalism in assisting people who need help, and without the 911 Operator who knows what would have happen. We have heard them calm a Scared Child when his mother was laying on a floor. We all want to know there are Good People out there, we want to know there are Hero's out there.

    I would hate to know unprofessional operators remain on the jobs because there is no public outcry. Keep The Recordings Public!

    May 15, 2009 at 2:22 pm |
  39. Amber

    Gawd, no one can take a joke at ALL anymore.. I thought that was HILARIOUS. I mean, calling 911 because your 12 year old and 14 year old are fighting? GET IT TOGETHER LADY. I am a parent of teenagers and I can guarantee you they would -never- pull something like that. Whatever happened to parenting, for god's sake.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  40. sean

    Just another Republican idea to suppress evidence. Can't let the people know whats really going on you know? Then they might question things....we can't have that.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm |
  41. wazu

    Yet another idiot who wants to ban our rights! Once they start they'll keep banning as much as possible! There another idiot politician who feels tax payers shouldn't have the right to something else when he can pay for those services out of his pocket then he can ban it. a republican no doubt

    May 15, 2009 at 2:19 pm |
  42. Angry Taxpayer

    Unless Lawmakers start paying the taxes on service such as 911 then it should be public information.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:17 pm |
  43. Jeff

    If the law's intention is to make some provision to protect the rights of privacy of the callers, that seems reasonable. The caller could then waive that right of confidentiality if they so choose. I can't conceive of any useful reason other than expansion of an unaccountable police state to protect the privacy of the 911 operator.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm |
  44. porcupine

    Who ever get paid with American people taxes must be subject to scrutiny.
    End of the story.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  45. David

    I think 911 call recordings should be publicly available as a matter of course. It's the only proof the public has of how their calls for help are being handled.
    I've heard several different 911 calls on the news over the years; I'm often surprised at the unsympathetic and flip tone taken by the responders. In a time of crisis, the last thing a victim needs is sarcasm. Unemotional cool professionalism should be the gold standard, but it seems that's often not the reality.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  46. Sharon

    As a former 911 operator, I think the public should be able to hear everything. I can also tell you, even what you are allowed to hear, is often not the full truth or content of the call. The dispatch centers can cut out parts they don't want you to hear and that includes the background conversations of other 911 operators in the room.

    People get into being a 911 operator because they want to be in a position to help others, but they get great kicks and laughs out of your misfortunes. When you cal 911 yes, they will get you the assistance you need, but for the rest of the day, depending on the situation yo called about, you will be the butt of their jokes.

    The dispatch centers remove all of that background information from the tapes before they are released to the media, and they are able to selectively edit everything.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:14 pm |
  47. BeenThere

    I think that it should not be available for just anyone to hear. Access should be regulated and controlled. Do people screw up? Absolutely, but think how hard it would be to do your job (whatever it is) if you had someone vulturing over your shoulder every single second and picking it apart. Nobody is perfect and everyone has bad days. That being said, if there is misconduct that rises to the level of someone getting hurt, absolutely use it in a court case. If it's a stupid mistake like the crappy comment the one in the article made, let the caller make a complaint and let the supervisor deal with it, because I can guarantee you they will. The general public doesn't need to know about every single mistake. Especially when there are some very, very ignorant or entitled callers who do not know what it's like trying to deal with people who are genuinely in distress every single day. How would you like your fairly small, yet stupid mistake to be broadcast on every news channel for no reason other than entertainment? On the other end, now people are afraid to call 911. Not only because the bad guys might recognize them, but don't think for a second that your call to 911 might not be on Jay Leno if you make a stupid call or a call that sounds funny to them. People don't call 911 because things are going great, they call because they are in distress or because they perceive that they are in distress. It takes a very special breed of person to handle those calls every single day, all day. And to do it without a mistake? Good luck, because there isn't a person in this world who is that perfect.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:09 pm |
  48. Kim

    Having been a 911 operator/dispatcher for nearly two decades, I believe that a court order should be required. People call up who are, at the time, distraught and some unable to actually speak due to the stress they are under, whether it be a crime or a person or family member injured. How would the public like to hear a women on a 911 call being raped? Does that sound exciting and interesting to you? For some I am sure, as nothing but negativity seems to promote the curiosity of many sickos.

    If a 911 operator makes a mistake because they are human, than that should be handled internally through the department. A lot of the problem, unknown to the public, is that dispatchers are put under extreme stress with very little pay compared to that of other public safety workers. It takes a special person to work for very little pay, work the crazy schedule including time away from family on midnights, holidays and weekends, work numerous amounts of overtime due to high turnover and handle all calls with 100 % accuracy. If you think it is an easy job, try it. I am sure there are openings, even in this economy, in any jurisdiction. Let me know how it works out for you and tell what if your opinion has changed.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:07 pm |
  49. T man

    I am ALL FOR this bill being made a law. The playing of 911 calls on local news broadcasts is out of control. The more emotional the caller is, the more probable that it will be played on a news cast. It's absolutely ridiculous that someone who is experiencing a traumatic event such as homicide or a house fire has to go through the humiliation of everyone hearing their 911 call. They should be kept private. If news stations or papers want a copy for investigation- fine but it should not be played for the general public at all!

    May 15, 2009 at 2:05 pm |
  50. Brad

    I think the key point being frequently missed, is FIRST the protection of the person calling.
    Access to information on a public system is a valid right, but it can only be exercised if it does not conflict with the rights of the caller. The dispatcher has no expectation of privacy, working for a public enterprise. The caller, however, is someone in a traumatic state, that is often utilizing what they see as their last line of defence. They are extremely vulnerable and need not be exploited.
    This is not to say the tapes cannot be available. It is the caller's choice though.
    In certtain cases a judge may declare it vital for a trial (eg: operator discipline case) to replay the tapes. In other cases, the caller may have no issue with releasing the tape. In some cases the caller may want their voice disguised, or only a transcript written.
    As a taxpayer, YOU don't have the right to sit and replay my cry for help for your entertainment.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:04 pm |
  51. Dan

    I'd propose the following "compromise." Ban 911 calls from 'broadcast' – but, allow them to be searched and heard via some repository system. I agree that the calls should be reviewd for problems, but, not on TV. I – as an average citizen – have no recourse toward a lack of professionalism. The only reason to broadcast it to me would be for "entertainment value," which isn't sufficient cause. Review boards, and even citizen groups who wish to monitor these calls should have full access, no question. For those familiar with the distinction, availability should be "pull" not "push."

    May 15, 2009 at 2:04 pm |
  52. Kevin

    This "politically correct" "transparency" issue has run amuk. The 911 issue is just one example. It's gotten to the point where good public administrators can't effectively run their agencies properly because either (1) their political enemies are collecting every bit of work information on them to use against them or (2) the press is second guessing everything that they do. It is possible to be too "open".

    May 15, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  53. Reed

    I totally agree with this lawmaker. A member of the public can't offer any helpful input after hearing a 911 call, there are no case-solving clues to be found in the conversation between dispatchers and callers. I don't see how public replays of 911 calls (e.g., the woman attacked by the chimp) offer anything other than opportunities for bored people to inject a little vicarious adrenaline into their lives, and there are certainly more healthy and dignified ways we can all do this. And because online news magazines like choose content primarily in accordance to what draws people's mouse-clicking index fingers, good taste aside, it is the public's responsibility to tune these replays out in the name of health and decency.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  54. Andy

    Absolutely, these should be publicly available. The wrongdoing of both the caller and the 911 operator should be heard in it's entire context so that the public can be aware of abuse of the system. To not release is a clear coverup by law enforcement, they hate to be scrutinized by the public, fi a private citizen is concerned about privacy, then they should be the ones forced to go get a court order to prevent the release. As the law enforcement community is so typical to say, "if you have nothing to hide then why won't you reveal?" Yet, it seems that when you reverse this on them, they tend to hide behind excuses such as, "oh we need to protect the caller's privacy." What a bunch of baloney, if that was the case, then why do we always keep watching these Casey Anthony jailhouse tapes. It seems they only want to release what puts them in a favorable light, further misleading the public, and release anything else that will damage someone else, such as an accused criminal. Contact your representatives and insist that we will have a right to access to these 911 tapes.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  55. Austin

    I think its total trash. We as taxpayers are paying for the service so I think we totally should be allowed to hear it.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm |
  56. Mary Beth

    Because 911 calls are public, celebrities don't call 911 and instruct their staff not to. That is why, in the Heath ledger incident, the masseuse called Mary-Kate's bodyguard

    May 15, 2009 at 1:55 pm |
  57. Greg


    May 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  58. Stevenson Democrat

    The idea of giving the person who made the call the right to decide whether it can be broadcast seems sensible. It's like the approach to photographing the return of military dead from overseas where the families make the decision. Obviously, such a rule could not apply to the playing of such recordings in legal proceedings.

    Sad to say, but much of the time the calls are aired on TV, it's to cynically hype a story and increase listeners and accordingly advertising rates.

    There's one channel that seems to broadcast nothing beyond the tapes of police chases, confrontations with the cops, and accidents with the voice-over guy vilifying the person involved without any real knowledge of whether the individual's guilty of anything.

    Worse yet the situation on a couple of these programs is turned nto a comedy when more often than not it's anything, but funny to the people involved. Freedom of the press by all means. But individuals have a rights too.

    May 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  59. Hmmm....

    I would avoid calling 911. I wouod not want anyone else hearing me at my most vulnerable time. Sure, sounds great for us all to say we should until you are the one on the line screaming and in need of help. What is it that people have the need to be involved in other peoples business at all times and situations?

    May 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
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