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Banning release of information? Someone call 911

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Lawmakers in Florida, Alabama, Ohio and Wisconsin are considering a ban on release of recorded 911 calls. In Florida, only transcripts would be available -- after 60 days and at a price. Some states already ban the release of 911 recordings.

In the never-ending struggle over release of information, public officials often portray the news media as hungry simply for salacious items. But the more information that is withheld, the harder it is for the news media to report how well and how fairly public institutions are doing their jobs.

The Associated Press, for example, wrote about a Detroit dispatcher who in 2006 scolded a 5-year-old boy for "playing on the phone" while his mother lay unconscious. (When police arrived, she was dead.) In a 2008, a Memphis, Tenn., 911 operator asked, "What's your emergency?" and then fell asleep.

Recordings of 911 calls also can be useful in determining exactly what happened.

For example, Lucia Whalen, the woman who last year called 911 to report a possible break-in at the home of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., said words she never uttered were wrongly used to portray her as a racist. The subsequent release of the 911 recording supported her account and put the misrepresentations to rest.

In Illinois, officials can withhold 911 tapes if releasing them would impede an investigation.

That's all the protection they need.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Frisbie published on March 3, 2010 2:35 PM.

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