WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Prohibiting Public Release of 911 Calls

Mar 4, 2014

The Shop Talk panelists discuss a proposal introduced in the Illinois legislature that would make it nearly impossible to obtain recordings of 911 calls.

Springfield radio station WTAX reported the bill was sponsored by Senator Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago), who feared release of the audio could traumatize victims. He said callers deserve a right to privacy.

But panelist Lisa Kernek said that needs to be balanced against the public’s right to know. She pointed out journalists don’t ask for every 911 tape.  They request the release of audio when it might add clarity to a story or shed some light on what happened.

Panelist Rich Egger said there are good local examples of reporters using discretion in deciding whether to request 911 audio.  He said release of the audio from a hoax 911 call made from West Murray Street in Macomb one year ago helped the public understand why police responded the way they did (though the Macomb Police Department resisted releasing the audio for two months). There was also the possibility the audio could aid the investigation. 

On the other hand, local reporters did not request the audio of a 911 call made a few weeks ago by a man who strangled his roommate during an altercation.  At this time it seems nothing would be gained by playing that audio for the public.

Panelist Jasmine Garcia acknowledged 911 audio could be difficult for some people to listen to in some cases, but she too said the recordings can add clarity to a story or even help an investigation.