Lawmakers ponder keeping 911 audio secret - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Lawmakers ponder keeping 911 audio secret

Lawmakers ponder keeping 911 audio secret


MADISON (WKOW) -- As an assembly committee prepares to vote on a proposal to bar the release of 911 audio, one committee member who remains on the fence has concerns over the recordings' impact later in court.

Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee), a former judge and member of the assembly personal privacy committee said the release of 911 audio can sometimes precede a criminal trial involving the call, and taint jury pools.  

"Do you want to prejudice the ability to have a fair trial?"

Kessler also supports proposed restrictions on access to Wisconsin's computer-based data system of court records known as C-CAP, but told 27 News he has not made up his mind on how he will vote on the proposed ban on the release of 911 audio. The proposal would still permit the release of transcripts of the content of calls.

Wisconsin broadcasters association president Michelle Vetterkind said banning the release of all 911 audio would be a blow to open government.

"There are certain things in a recording that are not going to be the same in a transcript.   Listening to how an operator handles the call;   listening to voice inflection."

The proposal was inspired by the experience of the family of murdered UW student Brittany Zimmermann, who has fought to keep private a call from Zimmermann's cell phone around the time of her killing.   Family members have said the call's broadcast would force loved ones to relive the homicide's horror, and proposal supporters said for the subjects and loved ones of released, 911 audio, the broadcast represents a form of victimization.

The revelation alone of the existence of the Zimmermann call, weeks after her homicide, exposed the call taker's improper handling of the emergency plea, and other problems at the Dane County 911 center.   Opponents of 911 audio secrecy have said the Zimmermann case typified the need for continued transparency of a critical, government function.

Minnesota, Rhode Island and Wyoming are examples of states with virtually no public access to the audio of 911 calls.   Most other states allow its release, but with varying restrictions, such as deletion of names and other information from recordings.

The seven member personal privacy committee is scheduled to vote on the 911 proposal Thursday.

Online reporting by Tony Galli

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