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Baltimore's 311 Call Center

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What is 311?

Baltimore City's 311 call center is a system for taking residents and visitors calls about non-emergency issues and complaints related to city services. In an emergency, dial 911. Calls to 311 go to the "One Call Center," a 24/7 in-bound call and dispatch operation.

Baltimore's 311 system, which takes about 3,000 calls a day, 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 bulk-trash pick up.

Some of the departments that can be contacted through Baltimore's 311 are:

  • Police (non-emergency)
  • Department of Public Works
  • Sanitation
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Animal Control
  • Mayor's Office of Constituent Services
  • Health Department
  • City Council

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.

|| Outside the Baltimore area, contact 311 at (443) 263-2220. Also you can use 311 Online. ||

Pros and Cons of 311

Overall, the 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. That said, the system has its flaws, which include occasionally long hold times and uneven customer service.

Another flaw is operators' inflexibility in dealing with non-specific addresses. If you are inside a large park, representatives frequently insist on a street address, even if it would be little use in locating you. 911 has a similar problem in that it is difficult to dispatch help to a non-specific location. But, unlike 311 operators, the 911 counterparts, are not as obstinate about getting a street address. 911 operators' goal is to find the location and will listen as you give directions or landmarks. 311 operators are more likely to be unreasonably insistent on a street address, even if it is meaningless.

Tips for using 311:

  • Be specific. – Don't just tell the operator what the problem is. Tell him or her what you would like done about it.
    Example: Public Works dug up an alley near my house in February to fix a leaky water pipe. When the pipe was repaired, workers left a pile of rubble aside a messy blacktop patch in the concrete. The pile made the alley inaccessible to cars. Also a manhole cover was askew. When summer came, weeds sprouted in the rubble and the dirt that accumulated in the manhole cover. I called 311 and describe the situation, but wasn't specific about what I wanted done. Eventually, the rubble was removed. The blacktop patch, which was clearly meant as a temporary fix, is still there, and the manhole cover is still loose. I should have outlined what I wanted done, i.e. concrete repair instead of sticky blacktop and adjustment of the manhole cover. This may or may not have helped, but this example only feeds my suspicion that 311 operators often stop listening after the first few sentences.
  • Take down the confirmation number. – Although it is often inconvenient, write down the number is there is any chance that you need to follow up on the complaint.
  • Call back. Or, better yet, get your neighbors to call too, if the problem isn't resolved. Multiple reports seem to grease the wheels. If work was not done or not done properly, call back. This is where the confirmation number comes in handy.
    Example: When I moved on my street, most of the houses were vacant and those that weren't didn't recycle. Recycling trucks didn't bother to come down my narrow block. When recycling day came and went with my cans and bottle never moving from the curb, I called 311. Within a few days, they were picked up. But the next recycling day, the same thing, so I called again, and they were picked up. And again the next recycling day. Finally, I got a note on my door from the recycling supervisor, asking me to call him directly rather than 311. I only had to call him once. Now the trucks don't skip my street. Persistence pays off with 311.
  • Try not to exhibit doubt. – While many operators do truly want to help you resolve the problem, some are looking to pawn you off on someone else as quickly as possible, especially if your issue is not routine, as was the case when we found a stray chinchilla. So uncertainty on your part can get you transferred to someone else before you've adequately explained the problem. While I don't advocate lying about information you don't know, try to sound as certain as possible about what you do know.

History of 311 System

In 1996, Baltimore was the first municipality in the nation to implement a 311 number.* Shortly after Baltimore began its 311 system, the FCC approved the use of the number nationwide. 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, Mayor Martin O'Malley launched the current One Call Center, expanding 311's use beyond just police matters to all city services. The software links into CityStat, which is designed to track complains and results. Department supervisors must answer to their higher-ups about the number of complaints and their outcomes.

*Source: www.911dispatch.com

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