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DC rarely releases 911 call audio; Maryland typically does – Washington Times

dcogcadmin | March 19, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) – The District of Columbia receives nearly 1.3 million 911 calls a year, and city officials insist that audio from those calls is public information. Yet the public rarely gets a chance to hear them.

Requests for audio of calls under the District’s Freedom of Information Act are routinely denied, according to officials at the District’s Office of Unified Communications and reporters who cover public safety in the city. They usually say they won’t release it because it’s part of an ongoing investigation or it contains personal information. Yet in Maryland, calls are routinely released within days, with names of callers or patients cut out.

In the District, the exemptions are applied broadly. The last time the city released audio of a 911 call was more than a year ago, in a highly publicized case from January 2014 where a man died of a heart attack he suffered across the street from a fire station. Firefighters were disciplined for failing to walk across the street and help after bystanders got their attention, and four employees of the 911 call center were also disciplined. A dispatcher sent an ambulance to the city’s northwest quadrant, rather than to northeast, where it happened.

District officials have denied FOIA requests for 911 calls in other high-profile cases, including a 2013 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that killed 12 people.

A spokeswoman for the communications office, Wanda Gattison, said in a statement that it “has typically withheld those calls” that trigger an exemption to the FOIA law. [Read More]