Case Closed?! Streetsblog Pulls Back the Curtain on the Ongoing 311/NYPD Joke

We reported this illegally parked car and then watched as NYPD officers ignored, then closed, our report. Photo: Ben Verde
We reported this illegally parked car and then watched as NYPD officers ignored, then closed, our report. Photo: Ben Verde

The NYPD doesn’t consistently give a damn about your 311 complaint about that illegally parked car.

The agency says it responds to every 311 complaint about illegal parking, but the truth is the NYPD does not. That’s what Streetsblog found the other day, confirming years’ worth of complaints from literally thousands of New Yorkers who have found that most of their reports to 311 are mysteriously “closed” with no action taken, even though the illegal activity continues.

Oleg Chernyavsky, director of Legislative Affairs for the NYPD, told the City Council late last month that the NYPD was “taking this issue seriously.”

“We’re responding to each and every complaint,” Chernyavsky added.

But Council Speaker Corey Johnson wasn’t buying it.

“There’s never any ticket, Oleg. Nothing is done. There have been complaints for years – and nothing is done,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t seem that the enforcement that you’re doing, and what you all have proposed to do, is going to make much of a difference.”

Many New Yorkers have complained about the same thing:

We decided to see who was telling the truth. It ain’t Chernyavsky.

On the day after Chernyavsky’s testimony, Streetsblog headed to Long Island City to find out exactly what happens when a New Yorker — in this case, us! — uses the 311 app to report an illegally parked car. Here’s our report:

  • 12:30 p.m.: Streetsblog grabs a sandwich. You’ll see why.
  • 12:38: Streetsblog finds a Chevrolet Avalanche illegally parked in a “No Standing Anytime” zone in front of a flower shop on 51st Avenue and Vernon Boulevard. Note: the truck had a Police Benevolent Association card on the dashboard. Such cards are often given out to friends of cops for help in getting out of spats with the law, or in this case, parking wherever they want. (This story offers a primer on that scam.) Here is a photo of the truck as we found it:

illegally parked before shot

  • 12:39: Streetsblog uses the 311 app to file a complaint about the illegally parked truck, which happened to be one block away from the 108th Precinct stationhouse and in the path of many officers going in and out of the stationhouse during the day.
  • 12:40: Streetsblog receives an automated response from 311 saying, “Your service request has been sent to the New York City Police Department for action.” We feel good about that, so we stay in the location with our sandwich to see what said “action” will be. Here is the email:

verde 1

  • 12:50-1:26: Three NYPD vehicles drive past the illegally parked car without stopping.
  • 1:35: Someone walks out of the flower shop and gets something out of the illegally parked blue pickup, which remains in place. The man brings the item into the flower shop.
  • 1:36-2:11: A squad car, an unmarked car with two uniformed officers, and two more squad cars drive by without stopping or taking action.
  • 2:18: A squad car parks at the corner of Vernon and 51st, around the corner from the illegally parked vehicle. An officer in a community affairs jacket gets out. He looks around for a few seconds before walking the one block to the stationhouse. The officer’s pause and glance suggests he might have been aware of our report — but his failure to take action speaks for itself.
  • 2:30: The same officer returns, gets back in the squad car, and drives away without a glance.
  • 2:35: The same officer returns and walks towards the stationhouse without breaking stride. It is unclear if this officer was sent to investigate the 311 complaint, but his failure to take action again speaks for itself.
  • 3:30: Another squad car rolls by without stopping.
  • 3:53: We receive the following email from 311: “The Police Department responded to the complaint and with the information available observed no evidence of the violation at that time.” Here is that email:

verde case closed copy

Here is a photo of the truck when the case was closed. Compare it to the photo above.

illegally parked after shot

In any event, let’s unpack the email from the NYPD/311.

The illegally parked pickup never moved from its position in a “No standing” for the entirety of our test. It may be true that the NYPD “responded” to our complaint — but it is factually untrue that there was “no evidence of the violation” we reported. The truck never moved from its illegal perch.

Of course, no one should be surprised by the results of our test. Earlier this month, as part of its investigation into illegal parking, Johnson unveiled a website to track illegal placard parking complaints in the city. That website found that just 11 percent of 311 complaints about illegal placard parking ended up with a ticket issued.

And according to city data, only 12.6 percent of the 163,635  311 complaints about all illegal parking resulted in a summons last year. Fifteen percent were logged as resolved, though it is unclear what the resolution was. The biggest group — 26.2 percent — was closed after the police claimed they observed “no evidence” of a violation. Another 22 percent were closed after the police claimed they visited the scene only to find that “those responsible were gone.”

But did the cops actually visit the scene? Our test proved that they don’t always do so, even if they say they did.

We brought our findings to the NYPD, and agency spokeswoman Sgt. Jessica McRorie said, “311 complaints that come into the precinct are assigned out and handled by units on patrol.” She declined further comment.

Rich Mintz, a member of Community Board 6 who regularly reports illegally parked vehicles said he was not surprised by the results of our test. Mintz said the vast majority of reports he files are closed almost immediately, with the NYPD most often claiming that the vehicle was gone or that police action was not necessary.

Mintz said he suspects some precincts simply close reports without investigating if it comes from somewhere they know placard holders often illegally park. This inaction frustrates Mintz.

“There are some situations where police judgment is of course, appropriate, but when I report an illegally parked vehicle in a bus lane, I expect action to be taken, regardless of whether there’s a placard on the dashboard,” he said.