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Appeals court orders city to produce digital copy of 911 call

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    NMU         WISCONSIN         Freedom of Information         Jun 20, 2000    

Appeals court orders city to produce digital copy of 911 call

  • A court ordered that an analog copy of a 911 call, originally recorded on a computer in digital format, does not satisfy an open records request for a copy of the call in its original form.

Appeals court orders city to produce digital copy of 911 call

Wisconsin 06.20.00 FOI

A court ordered that an analog copy of a 911 call, originally recorded on a computer in digital format, does not satisfy an open records request for a copy of the call in its original form because the analog copy would not allow the requester to derive background sounds and other information.

The city of Milwaukee must produce a digital audio tape recording of a 911 telephone call requested by the Milwaukee Police Association rather than the analog tape that was provided, a Wisconsin appeals court ruled, affirming a Milwaukee County Circuit Court decision.

Judge Charles Schudson delivered the opinion of the court June 13, ordering the city to hand over the digital audio tape after finding that the analog audio tape recording provided by the city was not identical to the original recording and therefore was not in accordance with the police association’s request. The police association did not receive a copy of the recording as required by law, Schudson said.

Police chief Arthur Jones had argued that the city furnished the police association with a recording that was substantially as audible as the original digital audio tape recording, and that it had satisfied the police association’s open records request.

Digital audio sound signals are virtually indestructible, indefinitely storable and perfectly duplicable. Analog audio is susceptible to degradation when it is stored and copied.

The police association’s open records request specified that the tape provided should be in its original form–unaltered, unmodified and otherwise uncensored in any fashion. But the analog recording of a digital recording does not contain all of the same information as the original digital recording, the police association told the court.

Police association president Bradley DeBraska said the group wanted the digital audio tape of the 911 call so that they could make a perfect copy of the recording and augment the background noises and to determine whether the tape had been altered or edited.

The call came from a Milwaukee police department deputy inspector’s home. The 911 operator heard no one on the line, but in the background distinguished a man and woman in a heated argument. The woman was screaming that she was going to shoot the man. The caller eventually got on the line and stated that his wife, the deputy inspector, had pulled a gun on him.

(Wisconsin v. Jones; Police association counsel: Laurie Egert, Milwaukee)

(Wisconsin v. Jones; Police association counsel: Laurie Egert, Milwaukee) MT


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