Baltimore was the first municipality in the nation to implement a 311 non-emergency call center in 1996. Prior to setting up the call center, Baltimore had no central 7-digit phone number for calling the police force. This forced residents to call 911 for both emergency and non-emergency police matters and prevented true emergency calls from getting through as quickly as possible.
In 2001, then-Mayor Martin O'Malley launched the One Call Center, which expanded the 311 system's usage beyond just police matters to all city services. The system utilizes a customer relations management software that is designed to track complaints, such as a broken streetlight, and the results after the call are finished. The system is also able to send out work orders throughout the city in order to handle the reported issue.
Shortly after Baltimore began its 311 system, the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) approved the use of the number nationwide. Dozens of large and medium-sized cities across the United States and Canada now use some variation of a 311 service.
Departments Available Through the Call Center
The representatives who answer the calls 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 at animal control and pass it along to the department. Some of the departments that can be contacted through Baltimore's 311 include:
- Police (non-emergency)
- Department of Public Works
- Parks and Recreation
- Mayor's Office of Constituent Services
- Health Department
- City Council
Overall, Baltimore's 311 system is a success. It provides citizens with 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 less than friendly customer service.
Another flaw (though it has become less of a problem with Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking) is the need for the dispatcher to get a specific address for initiating a service request. If, for example, you're in a large park and reporting a streetlight that has gone out, you may not know your exact location address. In the past, 911 had a similar problem, with difficulty dispatching help to a non-specific location, but also has improved with GPS tracking.
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 to be done about it.
- Take down the confirmation number. Although it is often inconvenient, make sure to write down the number if there is any chance that you need to follow up on the complaint, or you may not be able to get the department or help you need.
- Call back. If your issue hasn't been resolved in a timely manner, make sure you (and your neighbors) call back to check on the status. Multiple reports will help keep the issue on the front burner and resolved much quicker.