Still, as the 2013 legislative session looms, the fate of one of the issues Whitaker cares most about is up in the air.
Whitaker is a strong advocate for limiting “traumatic calls involving real-time suffering, realtime trauma, labor breathing, screams for mercy, pleas for help, those kinds of things.”
“This is just to protect those 911 calls played on news media outlets for sensationalism or ratings,” said Whitaker, who has been at the helm of Douglas County’s 911 system since 1993. “It’s to protect the victims’ families from hearing that.”
Whitaker has been pushing to amend the state’s open records laws since the 2009 floods, when several people were killed in Douglas County.
In 2010, Whitaker’s proposed legislation was attached to the Meredith Emerson Privacy Act, which exempted photos showing nude or dismembered bodies from the Georgia Open Records Act. The law came about after Hustler Magazine requested gruesome crime-scene photos of Emerson, a 24-year-old University of Georgia graduate who was hiking in north Georgia when she was abducted and murdered.
Whitaker’s amendment was ultimately removed from the Emerson Privacy Act at the request of the bill’s sponsor in the Georgia House of Representatives, state Rep. Jill Chambers.
Whitaker said he had worked with outgoing state Rep. Bill Hembree (R-Winston) for several years on the legislation and that Hembree planned on reintroducing it this year in the state senate. But Hembree’s recent defeat in the race for the senate District 30 seat left Whitaker’s legislation without a sponsor.
Whitaker talked to state house District 67 Rep.-elect Micah Gravley recently, and Whitaker said Gravley seemed open to the legislation.
“I’d think the first thing I’d imagine is what if this was my family,” Gravley said. “Would I want anyone to have access to this?... It’s something that I’m looking at supporting.”
Whitaker said the goal of his legislation isn’t to rewrite the Georgia Open Records law, but to add exceptions for specific types of calls. He said in talking to people, he’s heard mostly positive feedback.
However, Whitaker said he’s expecting “push-back” from the media.
David Hudson, general counsel for Georgia Press Association, points to changes to the Open Records law last year that keeps materials like calls and documents open to the public except when nondisclosure is “necessary to prevent the disclosure of the identity of a confidential source, to prevent disclosure of material which would endanger life or the safety of any person, or to prevent disclosure of a confidential surveillance or investigation.”
“There have been government officials over the years who have objected to public access to 911 materials,” said Hudson... “This language, as it now exists in the law, seems to be the proper balance between what should be disclosed and what should be kept secret.”
Read more: Douglas County Sentinel - E911 official Limit call access