Are 911 Calls Public Records?

Yes, 911 calls are public records. However, state law determines what the information Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) may share with the public. Consequently, if you want to see the name, number, address, or personal information of the person who made a 911 call, you may need a court order.

Scroll down to view the accessibility of 911 call records in your state (Table).

Quick Take: Are 911 calls public records?

  • State privacy laws may prevent access to 911 call recordings.
  • You may use NASNA (National Association of State 911 Administrators) to determine where a 911 call originated.
  • Some states charge a fee to access public records.
  • PSAP centers (Public Safety Answering Points) receive and record 911 calls.
  • You will need a court order to access sealed public records.
  • Some states keep 911 call records indefinitely and some delete them after a set period.
  • You may access federal records via a Freedom of Information Act request.

What is a public record?

 “Public record” refers to documents or media recorded or filed by a public agency. To access public records, what you must do is:

  • Go to the government department or agency and ask to look at records. In the US, PSAP centers receive and record 911 calls.
  • You may also find public records on state-run websites.

Are 911 calls public records?

Yes, but access to public records depends on state law. For example, under Alabama code section 11-98-12. You will need a court order to access 911 call records in the state. The statute reads in part, quote:

“After April 21, 2010, an emergency communications district may not release the audio recording of a 911 telephone call except pursuant to a court order finding that the right of the public to the release of the recording outweighs the privacy interests of the individual who made the 911 call or any person involved in the facts or circumstances relating to the 911 call. This section shall not apply to law enforcement personnel conducting an investigation where the 911 telephone call is or may be relevant to the investigation.”

However, section B of the statute allows PSAP centers to release 911 records to a legal representative of the person who made the call or the caller’s estate on the condition that the caller is deceased/incapacitated and the person making the request submits an affidavit.

Are 911 Calls Public Record – A State by State Overview

Alabama

Under section 11-98-12 (c), written and electronic records that detail circumstances or events related to a 911 call are subject to public inspection, but you must pay a fee to gain access.

In states including Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, and Massachusetts, there are no statutes that specifically address 911 calls. Because of that, you may file public records request at your state’s 911 department or check state laws.

Alaska

Some police districts may be more compliant than others. 911 call records should be disclosable under the public records act.

Note: Alaskan lawmakers have proposed a bill that would remove 911 call records from the Public Records Act. However, it failed to pass.

Arizona

911 call records are available to the public in Arizona, unless there is an intervention made by the government to suppress the tapes. 911 call records can be withheld for many reasons such as public safety or even the privacy of a child.

Arkansas

911 call recordings in Arkansas can be released with a Freedom of Information Act Request. However, in the interest of confidentiality information such as subscriber telephone number, address, and names of 911 callers are deemed to be private and not subject to the FOIA.
Ark. Code Ann. § 12-10-317(a)(2) (2018)

California

In California 911 call records are not exempt from the new CPRA (2020). This means that 911 call records are available for public inspection and copying in California. However, there is an argument that under 6254 (f) call records related to an investigation my be made unavailable:

(f) Records of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of, the office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, the Office of Emergency Services and any state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes. However, state and local law enforcement agencies shall disclose the names and addresses of persons involved in, or witnesses other than confidential informants to, the incident, the description of any property involved, the date, time, and location of the incident, all diagrams, statements of the parties involved in the incident, the statements of all witnesses, other than confidential informants, to the victims of an incident, or an authorized representative thereof, an insurance carrier against which a claim has been or might be made, and any person suffering bodily injury or property damage or loss, as the result of the incident caused by arson, burglary, fire, explosion, larceny, robbery, carjacking, vandalism, vehicle theft, or a crime as defined by subdivision (b) of Section 13951, unless the disclosure would endanger the safety of a witness or other person involved in the investigation, or unless disclosure would endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation. However, this subdivision does not require the disclosure of that portion of those investigative files that reflects the analysis or conclusions of the investigating officer.

California Inspection of Public Records 6254 (f)

In this case, the tape itself does not have to be disclosed under this exemption, only the information that is on the tape. This exemption only applies to 911 calls that are related to active investigations and the California Supreme Court has stated that it should not be used to “…shield everything law enforcement officers do from disclosure. Often, officers make inquiries of citizens for purposes related to crime prevention and public safety that are unrelated to either civil or criminal investigations. The records of investigation exempted under section 6254(f) encompass only those investigations undertaken for the purpose of determining whether a violation of law may occur or has occurred. If a violation or potential violation is detected, the exemption also extends to records of investigations conducted for the purpose of uncovering information surrounding the commission of the violation and its agency.”

Colorado

Yes, 911 calls in Colorado are available under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Where to find a copy of a 911 call

According to the National 911 Program, all 911 centers (PSAP) record and save calls. Therefore, if you know where the call originated, you may file a request at a center near the area. If you do not know where the 911 call originated, you may use the NASNA Member contact form.

How can I get a recording of my 911 call?

Identify the specific state agency that holds the record, check the requirements, then submit an oral or written request.

For example, in Massachusetts, you may submit a request by calling the Primary Records Officer via (508)828-2911 or send an online written request to [email protected].

How to submit a 911 call record request

The first step is to check your state law. State law will tell you what information you are entitled to and what you can and cannot do with it.

 For example, in Florida, you may use 911 call records in court if the operator calls back. What do I mean?

Assume that you call 911, and the call drops -prompting the operator to call back. Under the hearsay rule, the call or call back recording may be admissible in court.

We recommend checking your state’s recording laws here.

That said.

To submit a 911 call request, after finding the state agency that holds the records, you must:

  • Check your state’s fee requirement. Some states charge per hour, and some offer public records at no cost for a limited period.
  • Accurately describe the call.

Remember, state agencies must adhere to state law. Meaning it is advisable to check state laws before submitting a request.

How do I get my 911 transcript?

You may submit a Notice for Information Request to your county’s open record officer or PSAP center.

How to file a Freedom of information request and access federal records/

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), citizens have the right to access public records. Consequently, if your state does not have a specific statute addressing public records, you may submit a FOIA request to the federal agency that maintains the records you want.

What is a FOIA request?

The requirements may vary, but all FOIA request forms must contain:

  • Your name, mailing address, and contact information.
  •  A description of the record.

FOIA act: what to remember

  • Under FOIA, federal agencies must share their records and information but with some exceptions.
  • If an agency refuses to share information, it may suffer penalties.
  • To access federal records, you must submit a FOIA request.