Mayor Vows to Investigate Alleged Harassment of 311 Users After Recent Streetsblog Investigation

Mayor Bill de Blasio in January. Photo: Ed Reed / Mayor's Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio in January. Photo: Ed Reed / Mayor's Office

The city will “immediately investigate” allegations from residents who say they received harassing phone calls and messages after filing 311 complaints to the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio said at a news conference Wednesday.

“Whether [such calls are] coming from a city employee or someplace else, it’s not good,” the mayor said when asked about the alleged harassment. “What we need to know is what happened in those cases.”

The mayor is the second city official to call for a probe into the harassment allegations, which Streetsblog reported last week in a broad investigation into the NYPD’s handling of 311 complaints about illegal parking, chronically reckless driving and abandoned vehicles. Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos has also pushed for an investigation and asked anyone who had received such calls or messages to contact his office.

Users of 311 told Streetsblog they’ve received strange voicemails from unidentified callers, or calls in the middle of the night, or a barrage of calls from concealed phone numbers — all after filing illegal parking complaints. One 311 user received a text message that read “keep fucking around” from an unidentified sender after Streetsblog published a story about his earlier exchange with a cop over illegal parking complaints. Even Council Member Bob Holden told Streetsblog he’s received calls at 3 a.m. from officers over 311 complaints filed hours earlier, which he called “inappropriate.”

The mayor’s pledge to investigate the harassment allegations intensifies the scrutiny on the NYPD as the City Council ratchets up its own inquiry into the department’s handling of 311 complaints.

On Tuesday, the Council subpoenaed the NYPD for records on the department’s response illegal parking complaints submitted via 311, including some that Council investigators found the police had ignored, despite reporting otherwise.

The council had asked for the records previously, but the NYPD did not provide them.

“While we appreciate NYPD’s commitment to have its Internal Affairs Bureau investigate this matter further, and to impose appropriate discipline, this does not supplant our oversight role and our responsibility to examine the extent to which the Department’s system for handling [311 service requests] is functioning or, as the case may be, malfunctioning,” Council leaders wrote to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea on Tuesday.

De Blasio also expressed concern about another finding of Streetsblog’s investigation: that officers routinely dismiss complaints about driver misconduct as outside police jurisdiction. The 311 system automatically directs complaints about illegal parking, chronically reckless driving and abandoned vehicles with license plates to the police, and former city officials said such issues are clearly in police jurisdiction.

De Blasio agreed.

“These are real issues and they sure as hell seem like they’re NYPD issues to me,” he said. He pledged to direct his police department “to ensure that every one of these complaints is followed up on.”

How Streetsblog covered the story last week.
How Streetsblog investigated 311 (click the picture).

Streetsblog’s investigation was based on an analysis of more than 26 million 311 complaints since 2010, and interviews with dozens of city officials, former city police officers, safe-streets advocates, attorneys and residents who have filed years of 311 reports. This reporting showed police routinely ignore notifications about illegal parking, chronically reckless driving and abandoned vehicles, fostering a culture of lawlessness on city streets that residents say is getting worse as traffic deaths climb to their highest point in years. Some of Streetsblog’s findings included:

  • The NYPD now closes thousands of service requests about driver misconduct each year in under five minutes, up from only five such complaints that were closed so quickly in 2010. Former city officials said 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, per city data.
  • Officers rarely write tickets in response to 311 reports on driver misconduct.
  • Residents who together have filed more than an estimated 1,000 driver misconduct service requests say those efforts have almost never led to the problems being addressed.
  • Some officers appear especially dismissive of such complaints. In one Brooklyn precinct, 16 percent of driver misconduct reports this year have been closed in under five minutes.

An NYPD spokesperson said the harassment allegations reported by Streetsblog are “under internal review,” but did not respond to questions about that review.

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