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Amid Multiple Investigations, NYPD Defends Its 311 Response at Council Hearing

12:01 AM EDT on October 27, 2021

NYPD officials, including Deputy Chief Isa Abbassi, (far right) testified on Tuesday.

City Council members voiced frustration with the NYPD's handling of 311 complaints about illegal parking at a hearing Tuesday, but police officials defended the department's efforts.

Lawmakers on the Council's transportation and oversight committees, citing recent investigations, noted many 311 complaints about illegal parking are now closed suspiciously fast and that NYPD's official responses to them often appear untrue.

But the police brass said that the department takes 311 reports about illegal parking seriously, that the agency has sped up response times to such complaints and that some officers had been disciplined for mishandling 311 complaints, though officials did not say how many.

The back-and-forth followed two recent investigations into the NYPD's response to complaints about driver misconduct submitted via 311, the city's municipal services and information center. In one, Council investigators filed 50 service requests about illegal parking and parking placard abuse to observe the NYPD's response. Police officers did not show up for 14 of them despite saying that they had.

Streetsblog also investigated the police handling of 311 complaints, analyzing more than 26 million 311 service requests since 2010. This reporting revealed the agency routinely ignores complaints about illegal parking, chronically reckless driving and abandoned cars, fostering a culture of lawlessness on city streets that residents say is getting worse as traffic deaths climb to their highest point in years.

These investigations followed years of resident complaints about the NYPD's apparent apathy toward illegal parking, placard abuse and other problems on the streets of New York City — complaints that have been exhaustively documented on social media. Streetsblog has also reported on instances in which 311 users reported receiving harassing calls or messages after filing complaints to the NYPD about driver misconduct.

According to Deputy Chief Isa Abbassi, 311 complaints are "exceptionally important" to the department. Officers "are continually reminded of the importance of responding to these service requests, and responding to them in an appropriate and efficient way," he told lawmakers at the virtual hearing.

Abbassi said the agency has shaved an hour off its typical response time to illegal parking complaints since last year, with the average report now being closed in under 90 minutes. The agency has lots of oversight in place to ensure officers are responding to complaints appropriately, he said, and officers have been disciplined in the "anecdotal" instances when they haven't. The findings of the Council's investigation have been referred to the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau for review.

Such assurances did little to quell the frustration of some lawmakers.

Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the Oversight Committee, said instances in which the NYPD marked 311 complaints as closed without actually addressing the issues makes it appear as if the NYPD is "misleading the public on its traffic enforcement efforts by filing inaccurate complaint responses in the city’s 311 system." Regarding NYPD response times, she noted many drivers parking illegally have left the scene by the time officers say they have arrived.

Council Member Robert Holden, citing Streetsblog's investigation, noted the NYPD now closes thousands of 311 complaints about driver misconduct each year in five minutes or less. Former city officials told Streetsblog previously that it was implausible that officers were actually investigating and resolving so many complaints in under five minutes, given it takes the NYPD more than seven minutes on average to respond to even the most critical emergencies.

"Obviously five minutes is not realistic," Holden said. "It’s not acceptable."

Abbassi described the under-five-minute trend "a problematic indicator," but he said there are cases when complaints could legitimately be closed that quickly.

Council Member Eric Dinowitz said the quickly closed calls distort the department's 311 statistics. He called the sub-90-minute average response time touted by Abbassi "artificially low."

The police officials promised further improvements to the department's 311 response, but some Council members remained concerned.

"Don’t say that the NYPD’s addressing this, because they’re not," Holden said. "It’s not happening, it’s getting worse."

The NYPD did not respond to questions Tuesday about how many officers have been disciplined for mishandling 311 complaints, what discipline they faced, or whether the department will review issues with the NYPD’s response to 311 complaints that were documented by Streetsblog.

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