When you hear the muffled voice on the tape recording, your ears can’t help but tune in. But the voice was a familiar sound to John Hoblick, and it wasn’t something he expected last May while he watched the news on TV.
Hoblick heard the voice of his 20-year-old son, John Hoblick Jr., somberly telling a 911 operator that he had found his 16-year-old brother unconscious. The teen died after what his friend described to investigators as a night of drinking and prescription drug use.
Outraged, Hoblick soon advocated to change state laws allowing the release of 911 tapes. Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul pushed for a bill, which would require a 60-day waiting period before only written transcripts could be released without a court order.
However, strong opposition to the bill caused Cretul to drop his support.
The storm of opposition is unwarranted and the arguments against this bill are weak. Legislators should respect the privacy of those at their most vulnerable moments.
On March 15, a St. Petersburg Times editorial claimed the changes would “make it more difficult to hold emergency personnel accountable for their actions in the minutes when residents need them most.”
This narrow-minded argument has been consistently repeated. Written transcripts or competent supervisors and internal affairs departments can still hold 911 operators accountable.
Timely 911 recordings can be extremely profitable for news outlets, so it’s no surprise they oppose changes to the law.
“There is no opportunity to hold emergency services accountable without having access to these tapes,” Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation – which supports open government on behalf of the media – said to the Times.
The bill’s supporters want to make 911 recordings exempt from Florida Sunshine laws, but opponents think the recordings should stay public record.
“But when it becomes exemption after exemption after exemption, it undermines the very principle that all of that information should be available to the people,” Republican State Sen. Paula Dockery said at a luncheon sponsored by the First Amendment Foundation. “It’s their government. It’s their money.”
Many seem to feel that no matter how small or seemingly reasonable, any changes to open government are an attack on all open government. There is a need for flexibility in these laws.
Opponents are refusing to budge, acting with a one-size-fits-all mentality, and are not placing an importance on the uniqueness of this situation.
The most desperate moments of a person’s life should not be free moneymaking tools that satisfy the collective nosiness of the general public. When calling 911, people shouldn’t have to worry about how that call is going to sound on the news. This public charade must come to an end.
Justin Rivera is a senior majoring in history.