Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 25, 2013

Lawmaker seeks to limit FOIA release of 911 calls

BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

---- — LANSING — Prompted by a high-profile case of an attack on a suburban Detroit family, a Michigan lawmaker has introduced a bill aimed at limiting the release of 911 recordings requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Republican Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth said he wants to strike a balance between the public’s right to the information and the need for sensitivity, the Lansing State Journal reported.

The bill was prompted by a 2012 attack on the Cipriano family in Farmington Hills, Heise said. Tucker Cipriano is accused of beating his father to death with a baseball bat and trying to kill his mother and brother.

Another man also is charged in the case, and a 911 call for help from the home captured audio of the frantic scene at the family’s home.

“It seems to shock the conscience,” Heise said. “What we’re trying to do is at least create a cooling-off period to investigate these matters properly and also have some respect for victims or those who may know the victims.”

Heise said his intent is to limit how quickly 911 recordings are available. The bill would add 911 recordings to a list of allowable FOIA exemptions. As introduced, however, the language of the bill mentions no length of time as to when such recordings could be publicly available.

Jane Briggs-Bunting, president of the Michigan Coalition of Open Government, said 911 recordings should be available to the public as a matter of government accountability and transparency. Access helps citizens and journalists monitor response times and public safety service, she said.

“The Freedom of Information Act has enough limitations; we don’t need any more,” Briggs-Bunting said. “It’s very dangerous to me to carve out exemptions that are going to have broad sweeping impacts in reaction to one incident.”

The bill would allow transcripts of 911 calls to be disclosed under FOIA. Analysts with the House Fiscal Agency said in a report released Monday that allowing only transcripts could increase the cost for fulfilling FOIA requests while also potentially reducing the number of requests.

Heise said he is open to “reasonable suggestions” on the issue.

“My immediate concern is to prohibit the kind of disclosure that serves no public benefit and doesn’t respect the privacy of the individuals involved,” he said.