NYPD To Brooklyn Man: Your 311 Illegal Parking Complaints Are ‘Wasting Our Time’

Illegal parking in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. (Photos: Jesse Coburn)
Illegal parking in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. (Photos: Jesse Coburn)

Disgruntled users of New York City’s 311 system have long suspected that the police don’t care about their illegal parking complaints, but they’ve never had much proof. Until now.

“I’m informing you that we are not responding to your calls,” an NYPD police officer told Brooklyn resident Seth Friedman last week in response to his 311 complaints about illegal parking in his Brooklyn neighborhood. “You are wasting our time … with these silly jobs.”

The phone call from the officer, a recording of which Friedman shared with Streetsblog, seemed to confirm the Fort Greene resident’s worst suspicions about the 311 system: that the New York City Police Department purposefully ignores complaints about driver misconduct, emboldening motorists to flout traffic rules and endangering pedestrians and cyclists.

“It feels like the NYPD just doesn’t want to do their jobs, doesn’t want to enforce the law,” Friedman said. “It makes pedestrians and cyclists all across the city less safe when they won’t actually take action and decrease the lawbreaking in our neighborhoods.”

For months, Friedman, 30, has filed a few 311 complaints a day, mostly about cars parked illegally in no stopping and no standing zones in his neighborhood. The problem is especially bad at the intersection of Willoughby Street and Fleet Place, Friedman said, where the illegally parked cars block sight lines and make crossing the street a hazard.

“I’ve nearly been hit so many times,” Friedman said.

Officers have mostly ignored his complaints, Friedman said, while responding in the 311 app that they “took action to fix the condition” or “issued a summons in response to the complaint.” There are no corresponding summonses in city databases, Friedman said, and the glut of illegal parking has continued without reprieve in the neighborhood.

This is the status quo. A Streetsblog investigation last year found the police chronically ignore 311 reports about driver misconduct, marking reports as resolved when they did nothing in response and rarely ticketing drivers following complaints. But perhaps never before has a member of the force told a 311 user that such neglect was intentional – until the officer, who gave his last name as Read, called Friedman last week.

“We have more important things to do – there’s actual criminal activity happening,” Read told Friedman. “The supervisor already told us: we are not responding.”

Read said the subjects of Friedman’s 311 complaints did not merit police attention. Some of the complaints, Read said, were about things that were not actually illegal. Others were about double parked cars that were gone by the time police arrived, he said.

He also said that officers did not need to ticket cars parked illegally outside a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene office at Willoughby and Fleet, as the department – which Read mistakenly refers to as the Department of Housing – was “self-enforcing and addressing things with their parking issues.”

Friedman disputed Read’s account in an interview with Streetsblog, providing photos and screenshots that showed his 311 complaints documented real violations of city traffic rules. That an officer would nevertheless admit to intentionally ignoring such complaints has left Friedman frustrated and demoralized about the city government.

“To actually try to take action to better the city and be yelled at like that by an NYPD officer and harassed like that is totally unacceptable,” Friedman said. “It’s almost made 311 a completely useless tool for the city. It was started so that we as New Yorkers could let our government know when things are going wrong, so that they can act on it more effectively. Not only is it not being used to correct issues when they happen, but it’s being used as an active tool of harassment.”

Officer Read did not respond to a request for comment. The latest city payroll data shows only one NYPD employee with the last name Read: Christopher M. Read, a 14-year veteran of the force who works in Brooklyn.

Asked to comment, an NYPD spokesperson said only: “The NYPD and the 88th Precinct will continue to respond to and address all 311 calls.”

The spokesperson did not answer questions about whether the agency permits officers to deliberately ignore 311 complaints, or whether it allows other city agencies to enforce parking regulations around their offices themselves, as Read suggested.

Ray Legendre, a spokesman for the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation, which oversees 311, directed questions to the NYPD.

For nearly six months Streetsblog has been seeking records from the Office of Technology and Innovation on 311 customer satisfaction survey results. But the office has repeatedly delayed providing the records in response to our Freedom of Information request. Dominic Mauro, an attorney for the office who has defended the delay to Streetsblog, declined to comment, referring a question about the delay to the OTI press office, which did not immediately comment on the withheld records.

Jon Orcutt, a former city Department of Transportation official and current Director of Advocacy for Bike New York, said the phone call between Read and Friedman was not surprising, but it was clarifying.

“Anybody following how 311 and the police has responded to many, many, many of these calls knows that this is true,” he said of Read’s comments. But “it’s always good to get a verbal confirmation, right from the source.”

He added: “Essentially what we have in New York right now is the police department is the legislature and the executive branch of the city. It decides what the law is and whether it should be enforced or not.”