A sweeping new investigation by StreetsBlog uncovered apparently widespread misconduct connected to New York City’s 311 program, with dangerous and potentially fatal traffic violations left unaddressed by authorities.
Drawing on analysis of 26 million complaints filed through the 311 program since 2010, as well as interviews with a range of stakeholders and experts, StreetsBlog found that the New York Police Department “thousands of service requests about driver misconduct each year in under five minutes,” as opposed to five such closures in 2010; that experts believe this indicates police officers aren’t investigating complaints they quickly close; that the police department “routinely” justifies its closure of such complaints by saying they fall beyond its jurisdiction, which lawyers and former officials describe as a “false” justification; that some residents who regularly file complaints have received “harassing messages”; and that the NYPD “rarely” issues tickets connected to 311 complaints.
The 311 program was established by former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg and was intended to create “a new era of open government.” The agency’s customer service personnel forward complaints to relevant city agencies to deal with them, with traffic violations forwarded to the NYPD. StreetsBlog reports that while service requests about issues like illegal parking and blocked bicycle lanes have long gone ignored, the pandemic was accompanied by a wave in complaints closed within five minutes after they were filed. Almost 100,000 such closures occurred in 2020, accounting for 8% of total 311 reports, whereas there had been 7,000 such closured in 2019. “Complaints about driver misconduct were no exception: more than 8,000 of them were closed in under five minutes last year — a more-than-2,000-percent increase from 2016,” StreetsBlog reported.
While the NYPD reportedly justifies many such closures by noting that the complaint “does not fall under the Police Department’s jurisdiction,” experts suggest this response—connected to 6,000 closed driver misconduct complaints in 2021—is erroneous. A former police official told StreetsBlog, “Those absolutely are in police jurisdiction.” An attorney who’s litigated case against the police offered a similar take: “If not the Police Department, then who?”
The lax enforcement of 311 complaints can have tragic consequences. StreetsBlog’s report opens with the story of a 311 complaint about a blocked bike lane on Central Park West, reportedly “the 15th time in two years” a 311 complaint was filed about illegal parking on the Upper West Side. The police responded within an hour that it was not under their jurisdiction, closing the complaint. A month later, 23-year-old Madison Lyden, visiting New York from Australia, steered her bike “into traffic” to avoid a car standing in the bike lane. “There,” StreetsBlog recounts, “she was run over by a driver who had three empty cans of beer in his truck.” She was killed.
The entire investigation into lax enforcement of 311 driver misconduct complaints is available via StreetsBlog.