911: Public access should continue
Advocates of a House bill to sharply restrict the amount of information that may be released regarding 911 emergency calls say they are motivated by safety and privacy concerns for people who make the calls.
Rep. Joe Hackett, a Delaware County Republican, introduced the bill after the state Commonwealth Court ordered the public release of detailed 911 call information in York County.
Mr. Hackett contends that some information in 911 calls could endanger victims, and that his bill also would enable people reporting crimes to remain anonymous.
The overriding issue, however, is public accountability of 911 systems. Paul Knudsen, director of legal affairs for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, pointed to a few examples: a 2008 incident in Doylestown, Bucks County, in which a woman with multiple sclerosis who was trapped in a burning bed was put on hold when she called 911, and another case in Philadelphia in which a teenager died after emergency service agencies did not respond to 911 calls.
State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, a longtime advocate of open records and an architect of the Right to Know Law, noted that access to 911 call data is important not only in specific cases, but to assess overall effectiveness of emergency response systems, such as consistent response times in particular neighborhoods.
For the sake of accountability of public agencies and, therefore, furtherance of public safety, lawmakers should maintain public access to 911 call details.