NYC 311: Image Problems

I was in class at City College of NY (yes, I am a middle aged college returnee), and a classmate, the professor and I were looking at an article in NY Metro News, one of the free handout papers. The article (shown here) is about people using the 3-1-1 service to harass neighbors, or other people.

The classmate works for 3-1-1 as an operator. And she confirmed the problem. People call wanting the service to do something it was never set up to do. Or they are complaining over and over again about something that cannot be helped. Why are city dwellers using this service, set up by the previous mayoral administration, as something it was never intended to be?

I think part of the problem is that 3-1-1 has gotten too complacent. NYers are used to being able to call to report problems. Doesn’t matter what kind of problem. But there is a gray area between what 3-1-1 can handle and needing the more urgent 9-1-1 services for immediate help. And that’s what needs to be looked hard at.

When 3-1-1 was set up it was heralded as something the city needed. People didn’t have a way to report having no heat or hot water in their apartments. They didn’t have a way to get information about where to report problems with ‘wildlife’ in or around apartments. There was no way to report excessive noise or excessive garbage build up on or around a property. The service helped consolidate reporting, and gave NYers a sense that they had more control over the bad things that made living in NYC not fun.

Flash forward to today. NYers now use 3-1-1 to harass people when they have messy property. And they call 3-1-1 to ask for help with someone harassing them. Or stalking them. Or beating them up. My classmate says that operators have to take all calls, and be polite – unlike 9-1-1 operators who can be brusque and rude – apparently (I’ve never known a 9-1-1 operator to be brusque or rude btw). People can perceive that they have a better chance of getting help at 3-1-1 I suppose, and have an easier time dealing with these operators.

There’s a gray area between the two, where both sets of operators need to be trained to look. And the public needs to be trained to understand how 3-1-1 does work, and what things this service can help with. Got a landlord that isn’t giving heat on a cold day? Have a problem with ‘wildlife’ in or around your dwelling? Need to contact another city service and don’t know the number or website? 3-1-1 can help with these things.

Its still a good service. It just needs to get the public to understand what it SHOULD be used for, versus what they WANT it to be useful for.

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