Using 311 to report instances of suspicious behavior is very popular, especially in places like New York City. 311 provides some security for a caller by allowing him or her to leave an anonymous tip of a crime believed to be happening in their area, such as drug dealings. While 311 is useful, it can also be abused.The number is sometimes used for more frivolous things such as reporting noisy and careless neighbors.
One of the main problems with the 311 number is probably that people don’t understand how it works. The caller dials the number, the dispatcher files the complaint with the NYPD and then the complaint is investigated, should an investigation be warranted. This is different from calling 911 which automatically sends the report to the NYPD for immediate investigation. People who call 311 seem to mistake the two numbers, expecting instant gratification, no matter how small the complaint.
According to a report in the New York Daily News on Jan. 23, 2015, a Bronx woman, Arles Cepeda, was arrested for harassing 311 with her calls and is now filing a lawsuit. She suspected there were drug dealers in her building openly selling drugs to the youth of the neighborhood. She called 64 times, causing her to get in trouble with the police for “harassment.” She said that her complaints were ignored and when the police did show up, they were aggressive with her and told her to stop calling. People who claimed to have either visited or lived in the building complex stated that her calls were warranted and that there were indeed drug dealers in the building. This was definitely a noteworthy instance in which the complaints should not have been ignored.
However, there are times when the call may not be warranted. In Staten Island, Councilman Steven Matteo is introducing a bill that provides a three month calming period, during which people would not be able to call if complaints to 311 regarding a certain area are unsubstantiated. This is to lessen the calls people make to harass neighbors.
While the use of 311 can have some merit for reporting instances of potentially dangerous behavior, it rarely seems to have the desired impact. 311 is commonly used as a sounding board where people spout off their complaints. Nothing is done about a problem unless there is a real issue. Additionally, callers usually call in for petty things such as dogs barking or the way a car is parked in the street, and will keep calling until they achieve the desired result. However, this means 311 dispatchers are wasting time on frivolous problems rather than serious issues.
While people should follow the policy of “see something, say something,” they should only do it when it’s warranted. An example of this is illegal activity: If people see drug dealing or some other crime being committed, then they should report it to either 311 or 911, but these numbers should not be used to tattle-tale on neighbors over menial issues or to help exact revenge on neighbors who might feel wronged in some way.
The use of 311 can have its benefits. It can help bring potential criminals to a stop and still keep the informant safe from harm, a benefit to society. However, 311 can also be used for selfish purposes. This is why it is a good idea to have bills like the one Matteo proposed. The bill will help control the 311 calls and hopefully make people think twice before calling for silly reasons.