About a dozen states prohibit the release of 911 recordings or transcripts without the written consent of the caller or by court order. The goal is to protect the privacy of callers in what may be one of the most stressful moments of their lives. The restrictive laws also keep families in the dark about how the state’s 911 system has responded to calls involving their loved ones, and it leaves the public unaware of troubling gaps in how the system is performing, finds an investigation by The Public’s Radio and ProPublica. In March, the news organizations reported on the death of a 6-month-old baby after a Rhode Island 911 call taker failed to give CPR instructions to the family. The lapse came to light after a family member taking part in the 911 call sought a copy of the recording.
In June, the news organizations, with the Boston Globe, reported on the death of Rena Fleury, 45, who collapsed while watching her son’s high school football game last year. Four bystanders called 911. None of the 911 call takers recognized that Fleury was in cardiac arrest and none instructed the callers to perform CPR. The 911 recordings for Fleury were never made public. Across the U.S., recordings of 911 calls for accidents, medical emergencies, mass shootings and natural disasters have provided insight into the workings of public safety systems and sometimes revealed critical failings. States are looking to curb access, a trend that troubles media representatives and others. “Oftentimes, 911 calls are one of the primary sources of information for the public to learn what happened,” said Adam Marshall of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. They “can show what government officials did in response. And that allows the public to evaluate, are the 911 calls working properly?” See also: Why I’ll Never dial 911