New 311 system opens to the public

Today is the first day that 311 for New York City’s 311 hotline will be open 24/7, in the wake of a recent 911 data breach. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg began operating the modern version of the service in 2010. But the launch comes with a hint of pride as well: The new service is no longer the exclusive property of the NYPD. That’s a win for 311.

The system, which helps residents and businesses file noise complaints, cable disputes, and disappearances, will soon employ dozens of civilians.

By mid-June, the department plans to employ 114 people, including 4 personnel from the NYPD to assist with general operations, Cmdr. James Robinet said in an interview.

Chief Garner, the chief of NYC Department of Investigation, said the new additions also come with accountability: “We’re going to hold them accountable. They have to be operators of the system themselves, not dispatchers, but they have to be operators of the system.”

After responding to caller phone calls, officers who take part in operations will track up to 50 caller phone numbers simultaneously — a common request from the public. After the system starts operating, Garner said he expects callers can expect some changes, including the addition of Twitter and Facebook group pages where callers can connect with operators.

The Department of Investigation has been tracking 311 complaints for several years, capturing the number of minutes every call was on hold. That data shows 311 complaints had been directed to the department and the FDNY, the New York Police Department’s medical response unit, and the Emergency Services Unit for years.

Garner told the Times that there was a significant disconnect between 311 operators and the specific situations they were handling, raising the risk that someone with authority might unknowingly threaten police officers or residents.

“Now it’s much better defined: 311 versus 911,” Garner said. “We can see what they’re doing, what’s important, and then coordinate what we can to effect a response to the fact that they did something wrong.”

Of the City Inspections Department, which by law will have to respond to 311 complaints, spokesman Adam Weinberg said, “We are ready for the shift and provide an improved service to the City.”

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