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311: the non-emergency 911

The 311 Service Center hopes to build on last year’s success and increase its awareness among residents.
Image by Noah Liebl
311 is an alternative to 911 and helps with non-emergency situations. Residents can contact 311 to address issues of graffiti, potholes and other neighborhood issues.

As an alternative to 911 calls, Minneapolis’s 18-year-old 311 service allows residents to call for help in non-emergency situations like graffiti, street light outages or parking violations. 

As part of their March 7 presentations to the Minneapolis City Council, the 311 Service Center outlined efforts to increase their footprint and awareness in the city.

In Ward 2, the most common 311 calls are parking violations, potholes, graffiti reports, abandoned vehicles and snow and ice complaints. The University of Minnesota is one of the six neighborhoods in Ward 2. 

Through a phone call, email or the 311 app, residents can report instances.

Once contacted, the 311 Service Center transfers the issue to the relevant department. The majority of issues are resolved within seven to 10 days.

311 hearing calls for improvement

In 2023, there were 10,000 more 311 calls than in 2022. While the use of the 311 service is increasing, the feeling of improvement is not. 

Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association Executive Director Chris Lautenschlager said while he could call 311, the service is too slow to reliably deal with local issues. 

“We feel like our calls about 311, whether that’s snow shoveling or especially now with lighting, which has been a significant problem in not only the city but the entire metro with people stealing wires out of streetlights, is that these calls don’t get answered,” Lautenschlager said. 

Lautenschlager said the neighborhood association is facing growing concerns about street light shortages

“We have had a significant power outage in Marcy Holmes for over three months, and all our elected officials tell us is to call 311 and make a report. In the meantime, we’ve had three months of darkness in Marcy Holmes,” Lautenschlager said. 

According to Brenna Phelps, the operations director at the 311 Service Center, the difficulties around the center were due to low staffing. 

“Several years just between COVID and for a lot of different reasons, we were not fully staffed,” Phelps said. “We struggled to kind of keep that full staff because this job is not an easy job. You’re dealing with an immense amount of calls from all different sorts of issues and concerns.”

The 311 Service Center is staffed with 29 call stations around Minneapolis as of 2024. With full staffing, Phelps said the goal is to make the service center more available to the community. 

“We are putting in a lot of effort on how we connect into the community, especially communities that maybe don’t know we exist, or maybe don’t know how our services work,” Phelps said. “They know we’re there, but they don't know what we can do or how we can provide assistance.”

According to the presentation, 311 service centers will work with the city’s Neighborhood Community Relations (NCR) Center to ensure underrepresented areas have reliable access to 311 services. 

Nicholas Ngo, a deputy director of NCR, said 311 calls serve an important service in the community.

“I would say it’s almost like a handshake from the city,” Ngo said. “A lot of folks do have questions about what city services and programs are, so their first stop is calling 311, and the agents do a great job in terms of guiding them to those respective city departments or providing them with information.”

For NCR, the department hopes to collaborate with 311 service centers to expand access to non-English speakers. Going forward, Phelps and Ngo said the main goal of 311 and the NCR is community outreach and improving services.

“Our partnership with 311 is making sure that we can set up those interactions in any language,” Ngo said. “We have a lot of work in terms of respective language lines that are predominantly Spanish or an interactive voice recognition body of work where those respective languages have pre-dial options that folks can select from.”

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  • Eugene
    Mar 21, 2024 at 2:21 pm

    Great service for the people of Minneapolis