How to Get 911 Transcripts

By Teo Spengler - Updated June 19, 2017
Emergency 911 call

No number in America suggests crisis and drama more than 911, the countrywide emergency help number. In some states, access to 911 recordings may be limited, but in others, you can obtain the calls as a matter of public record. One of the main reasons to need a 911 call recording is for its use as evidence, in the form of essential eyewitness testimony in related court actions.

Emergency Call Recordings

Calls to 911 are typically made by eyewitnesses to a situation: someone heard the shot, saw a pedestrian hit by a bus or watched a surfer get swept out to sea. These calls are recorded and the recorded voices, full of the emotion of the moment, can serve as powerful testimony about what the caller was experiencing in that moment. However, they can also be painful reminders of sad situations for those involved. This is why the transcripts of 911 calls are generally easier to obtain than the tape itself.

Confidential Treatment

Some states treat all emergency phone calls as confidential information, and prohibit the release of call recordings or transcripts without a court order. In Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wyoming, you need to petition the court for an order that the material be released to you, including a memorandum and declarations showing your need for the material. States are generally obligated to provide the information to criminal defendants in matters related to the 911 call.

Limited Confidentiality

Other states limit by statute the persons who have access to 911 recordings and transcripts. The states Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina and South Dakota each impose limitations and specify procedures for requesting release. For example, in South Dakota, application for release of the information must be made to the law enforcement agency or court who then determines whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in nondisclosure.

Public Access

Most other states allow free access to 911 transcripts, although the procedure for obtaining them varies. In California, for example, 911 recordings are considered public under the California Public Records Act. You request access by sending a letter to the agency in charge of the documents stating that you are requesting the records under the CPRA. In Virginia, you fill out a Freedom of Information Act Request Submission Form and submit it according to the directions. In Iowa, transcripts and recordings are generally available to the public upon simple request.

About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.

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