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What's the 311?

An Occasional Look At What People in The City Are Complaining About

By Chris Landers | Posted 1/28/2009

A recent study of police cameras used in San Francisco came to the conclusion that they weren't that effective at fighting crime. In Baltimore, cameras--usually adorned with a flashing blue light--have become part of the urban landscape. But effectiveness aside for the moment, how do we feel about living under the watchful eye of the state? Turns out we love it, at least according to calls made to 311.

The number of requests for cameras during the last three years outnumbers the complaints by almost 50 to 1. From 311 transcripts: Jan 18, 2008, 3600 block of Everett Street: "residents are asking for a camera be placed in block woman are out selling themselves and there's children in the area;" July 29, 2008, 3700 block of Center Place: "resident does not want blue light camera installed at this address. concerned it will hamper sales of vacant homes in her area on mt pleasant."

To arrive at the numbers, more than 1,500 call records from 311 were classified into five categories. In addition to requests and complaints, there were reports of cameras malfunctioning due to technical faults or vandalism. For instance, a call to 311 logged on July 16, 2008 complained about a camera in the 2900 block of Ridgewood Avenue: "flashing blue (podss camera). light is on the corner of umatilla and ridgewood avenue. light is constantly knocked out by the teenagers in the neighborhood."

And 311 operators also took complaints about cameras where it was unknown what, exactly, the caller wanted. A complaint came into the center on May 8, 2008 about a camera on the 3700 block of Rexmere Road. The complaint reads: "front - tree is dead." Another, from Feb. 22, 2006 about a camera on the 3500 block of Pinkney Road: "would like for someone to contact him in refr. to how the camera work for relig. purpose."

Disclaimer: What's the 311 is based on data from the Mayor's Office of Information Technology (currently from Sept. 20, 2005, until Dec. 31, 2008). It has been folded, spindled, and mutilated along the way, and no attempt has been made to verify the accuracy of the calls. It is possible that whoever disconnected the camera in the 1600 block of Division Street last March could have been unhappy with it, but without talking to them, it is difficult to say for sure.

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