In 1996, Baltimore was the first municipality in the nation to implement a 311 non-emergency call center. It was designed to give residents a way to connect directly with the city without calling 911, for things like potholes, broken streetlights and other important but non-emergency situations.
Initially, Baltimore's 311 system was only used for non-emergency police matters. Prior to 311, Baltimore had no central 7-digit phone number for police, so citizens called 911 for both emergency and non-emergency police matters.
In 2001, then-Mayor Martin O'Malley launched the One Call Center, expanding 311's use beyond just police matters to all city services. The software is designed to track complaints and results. Department supervisors must explain how complaints are resolved to city officials.
The system uses a customer relations management software to track calls and send work orders throughout the city. So, it's one call to report everything from potholes to illegal dumping or to request services like a bulk-trash pickup.
Departments Available Through Baltimore's 311
Some of the departments that can be contacted through Baltimore's 311 include:
Department of Public Works
Parks & Recreation
Mayor's Office of Constituent Services
The representatives who answer either take the information directly or route callers directly to the correct department.
For instance, non-emergency police issues such as property damage and noise complaints, go directly to the police department. However, Baltimore's 311 operators take down all the information on issues directed to animal control and pass it along to the department.
Expansion of 311 Service Nationwide
Shortly after Baltimore began its 311 system, the FCC approved the use of the number nationwide.
Dozens of large and medium-sized cities across the U.S. and Canada now use some variation of a 311 service.
Tips for Using 311
Overall, Baltimore's 311 system is a great approach. It provides citizens a convenient way to connect with their government while giving the city the tools to track complaints and outcomes. The system has its flaws, which include occasionally long hold times and some uneven customer service.
Another flaw that has become less of a problem with GPS tracking, is the need for the dispatcher to get a specific address for initiating a service request (if you're in a large park and reporting a street light out, for instance, this presents a bit of a challenge). In the past, 911 had a similar problem, with difficulty dispatching help to a non-specific location.
Here are some other ways you can make sure your issue handled efficiently when you call 311:
- Be specific. Don't just tell the operator what the problem is. Tell him or her what you would like done about it.
- Take down the confirmation number. Although it is often inconvenient, write down the number if there is any chance that you need to follow up on the complaint.
- Call back. And better yet, get your neighbors to call too if the problem isn't resolved. Multiple reports will help keep the issue on the front burner.