February 8, 2002
311 NON-EMERGENCY TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICE
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked what jurisdictions have established 311 non-emergency telecommunications systems, and whether Connecticut has contemplated this.
Several cities and counties have established 311 services, in part to divert some non-emergency calls from the 911 system. This memo describes the systems in Baltimore and Las Vegas, which respond to non-emergency police calls, and Chicago, which has a system that responds to non-emergency requests for a wide range of city services. Other jurisdictions with 311 systems include: Austin; Clark County, Nevada; Dallas; Detroit; Hampton, Virginia; Houston; Rochester; San Jose; and Washington, D. C. Several jurisdictions, including Birmingham, Framingham, Los Angeles, Martha's Vineyard, Miami, New York City, and Orange County, Florida are establishing 311 systems. In February 1997, the Federal Communications Commission reserved the 311 as the national non-emergency communications number.
Peter Pescosolido, head of the telecommunications unit of the Department of Public Utility Control, and staff from Southern New England Telephone are unaware of any proposals to establish 311 systems in Connecticut.
It appears that no statewide 311 systems have been created to date. In 2000 California introduced but did not enact, (Assembly Bill 2837) to create a 311 statewide system. The bill would have created the Division of Telecommunications within the Department of General Services and established a 311 system that would handle non-emergency telephone calls to local public safety agencies.
Baltimore was the first city in the nation to begin using 311 as a police non-emergency number. It was initially designed to transfer non-emergency calls from the 911 system in order to reduce delays in answering times. Calls are routed to the police department's 24-hour 311 center, which is co-located with the city's centralized 911 center. The system was originally funded by the U. S. Department of Justice.
Within 2 months of its establishment in 1996, 42% of the calls to 911 were transferred to the 311 system. One year after the system began operations, the police reported a (1) 67% reduction in the operators' average time to answer 911 calls, (2) 78. 5% reduction in callers hearing busy signals, (3) 82. 2% reduction in callers receiving a recorded message, and (4) 6. 6% reduction in the number of calls dispatched to officers on patrol.
Baltimore is currently changing the 311 police-only system into a citywide one-number system. This number will handle all non-emergency calls for all city agencies.
Chicago instituted its 311 service in 1999 to handle all non-emergency calls. The city consolidated several separate call center operations, including one linked to the mayor's office, and opened the Customer Service Request system.
The multilingual system is staffed by light-duty police officers and its own full-time personnel. The person taking a call enters the incident type, and then specific questions appear for him to ask. The finished incident report is then electronically routed to the proper agency for handling. In addition, fire department battalion chiefs dial 311 themselves from the scene of fire incidents to request building inspectors and city agency crews, entirely by passing the dispatchers.
In 2000, the city received 2. 9 million 311 calls and it estimates that it received 3 million calls in 2001. The most frequent calls are for abandoned autos, street lights out, damaged or stolen garbage carts, graffiti, and stray or dangerous animals. Approximately 3% of calls to 311 are transferred to 911, and 5% of 911 calls are transferred to 311. Further information regarding the system is available on http: //www. 311service. org/.
In 2001, the city developed an on-line adjunct to the service. By logging onto www. cityofchicago. org, Chicago residents can request more than 500 city services. Requests are automatically routed to the appropriate city department. Users receive a service number so they can follow up on their request, either through the city's website or by calling 311.
Las Vegas' 311 system handles non-emergency police calls in the metropolitan area. The metropolitan police estimated that 60% of 911 calls were non-emergencies, resulting in over one-half million unnecessary calls to the department's 911 response center. The department anticipates that the new system will save lives, as the police will be able to better respond to real emergencies. The department gives the following as examples of calls that that should be made to 311 rather than 911: reports dealing with lost or stolen property, noise complaints, and reports made for insurance purposes only.
Under Las Vegas' system, 311 calls are charged local rates. The department can also handle TTY calls with this system. Further information is available from the department's website, http: //www. lvmpd. com/home/311call. htm.