In New York, how can I get a copy of a 911 tape?
Generally speaking, recordings of 911 calls are not confidential and may be obtained from the agency who keeps them.
The least complicated way is to contact the local police department request a copy. You may need to know the incident number or at least the best approximate time the call took place.
If they are unable to assist you, a copy can be acquired through the local law that requires government information to be made accessible to the public. The law would be based upon the Federal Freedom of Information Act. There would be local procedures to make a request for the information and a period of time that the local government would have to respond. If they fail to respond, you would be allowed to bring a legal action to require production of your request.
The New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) establishes the right of the public to obtain information from agencies of New York State government and its local entities, including New York City. Modeled after the federal Freedom of Information Act of 1974 (FOIA, which applies to information controlled by the federal government), New York State FOIL creates a specific procedure through which members of the general public can exercise their right to see and copy most state and local government records in New York State.
According to FOIL, "government is the public's business and the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government". FOIL is intended to give them that access.
The Freedom of Information Law requires that a request must "reasonably describe" in writing what records are being requested. The description must be sufficiently specific so that an employee who is familiar with an agency's records system will be able to locate the records within a reasonable amount of time and effort. The more precise and accurate the request, the more likely you are to get a prompt and complete response, with lower fees.
The Records Access Officer is required by law to respond to the request within five business days of the receipt of the request. They may respond in several ways:
1. If the agency decides that the request should be granted, the Records Access Officer must notify the requester in writing, stating the time and place at which the records may be inspected and the procedure and fees for copying of records.
2. If the agency decides that the requested records are exempt from disclosure under the terms of FOIL and should be fully or partially withheld from disclosure, the Records Access Officer must notify the requester in writing, stating the grounds for the denial. This letter must inform the requester of their right to appeal the decision and state the name of the person or body designated to hear such appeals. If a requested record contains some information that is exempt from disclosure and some information that is not exempt from disclosure, the agency is required to release the non-exempt information after editing out (known as redacting) the exempt information.
3. If a request doesn't adequately describe the records sought, the Records Access Officer must notify the requester in writing that the request was denied, stating the reason why and offering to assist them in reformulating the request in a way that will enable the agency to identify the records sought.
4. If a requested record doesn't exist, has been destroyed or is in the control of another agency, the Records Access Officer shall so notify the requester in writing, stating which agency to address the request to if the records are believed to be in another office. Bear in mind that some agencies simply have disorganized or inadequate filing systems and that in some instances officials have later turned up entire records systems that they initially thought did not exist. An agency statement that a record does not exist might trigger some additional research on your part, as well. Can you find news reports, hearings, etc. where they are described more fully?
It is possible that the agency will respond in one of these ways within the five days. However, provisions in the New York City Rules and Regulations allow a delay in the response time on the part of the agency under "unusual circumstances." The agency must still acknowledge that they received the request, in writing, within the five business days. In that letter, they must state the approximate date, within ten business days of the acknowledgement, by which a decision will be made about the request. "Unusual circumstances" means:
- The need to search for or request records from a separate office or facility;
- The need to search for and examine a voluminous amount of separate records;
- The need for consultation with another agency or department having a substantial interest in the decision;
- Any other circumstances in which the agency is unable, acting in good faith, to comply with the time limit.
If the agency then does not make a decision within ten days of the acknowledgement, the requester may deem the request to have been denied, and thus may file an appeal. Note that this rule applies only to to City, not to State, agencies.
If a Freedom of Information request is denied (or if the agency does not respond within the time frame explained above), the requester has the right to file a written appeal within thirty days of the receipt of the denial to the appeals officer of the agency.