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Victim safety and privacy must come first when weighing the release of 911 calls

For Immediate Release

Contact: Kath Cummins

The National Center for Victims of Crime today called for all states to develop protocols that allow for crime victims to be informed and consulted about the release of 911 calls, crime scene photographs, video and other crime scene information.

“All states should examine their procedures for the release of 911 calls to allow victims to be consulted, and their privacy and safety protected,” said Mai Fernandez, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “These protocols should allow  victims to present their views directly to the decision making body, such as a court or commission.”

“For the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, today’s public release of the 911 emergency calls is yet another instance where they feel forced to re-live the trauma and loss of last December,” she said.

“The process by which crime scene information is routinely released is often ad hoc. Victims feel that their privacy is being violated by a one-sided process over which they have very little – if any – say, or control,” she said.

“These feelings of loss of privacy and control are compounded in cases – like Sandy Hook – where victims are denied a  trial by the suicide or death of the perpetrator,” she said. “A trial process would at least have subjected the release of these traumatic communications to the formal processes of the court.”
Absent this court procedure, victims need a clear and predictable release process that officials can be held accountable for. Options such as releasing redacted versions of calls, or allowing for media scrutiny without publication should be available.
As well as exposing a person at their most traumatized and vulnerable, the routine release of these calls can enable public voyeurism and the exploitation of victims by media outlets looking to draw consumers. These calls can also contain private information that may endanger a victim or their family.
Like homicide scene photographs, audio recordings from crime scenes do contain important evidence and information about which the public has an interest to know. But there is a fine balance to be drawn between a legitimate public interest and the privacy and safety of victims. Crime victims and their families have a legitimate interest in being heard on these fine judgments.
The state of Connecticut recognized the need for victims to be treated with fairness and respect within the criminal justice process when it passed its victims’ rights amendment to the state constitution. The National Center believes that it was right for State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky to call for scrutiny of the decision to release the calls, and for this decision to be examined by a court. He was also correct to draw attention to the fact that a crime scene involving children warrants special scrutiny.