In October 1996, the Baltimore Police Department and AT&T launched a hotline for citizens to call “when there’s urgency, but no emergency,” as the slogan went. Officials hoped that the new number—311—would ease the strain on 911 operators, who were forced to waste time wading through call after call about barking dogs, loud music, graffiti, and all manner of other non-critical complaints.
Baltimore was the first city to implement 311 as a non-emergency number, and the practice eventually caught on across the country. New York City rolled out its own program in March 2003. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of that occasion earlier this year, the city government released a “State of NYC311” report [PDF] highlighting some notable dates and data points from its history.
For the first five years, New Yorkers could only reach 311 operators by phone. But in 2009, the city added three new outlets: a website, Twitter account, and mobile app. By mid-2011, you could text your complaint directly to 311-692; and by early 2014, you could simply slide into NYC311’s Instagram DMs.
Over the last two decades, NYC311 has fielded more than half a billion reports across all platforms. The peaks tell the story of the city through its most notable calamities, many of them weather-related. The busiest time for NYC311 by far was during the infamous Christmas blizzard of 2010; several other snowstorms also charted high, as did Hurricanes Sandy and Irene. The Great Recession, 2005 MTA strike, and COVID-19 pandemic all caused spikes in NYC311 activity, too. (So did the 2015 debut of IDNYC, an identification card available to all New York residents—regardless of immigration status—ages 10 and older.)
As Mayor Eric Adams wrote in the report, “NYC311 triumphs because it meets New Yorkers where they are.” And sometimes, where they are is in their building stairwell wondering what to do about the goat tied to the railing.
That’s one of 20 unforgettable calls remembered by NYC311’s staff, spanning the program’s entire 20-year history. Some were requests for information—like who won American Idol, what time Santa Claus lands in Manhattan, and “the steps for boiling a live chicken.” Others were interpersonal grievances, as in “I’d like to report my neighbor for waving to everyone on the block.”
See the rest of the Big Apple’s most absurd complaints and queries below (and be thankful that 911 operators never had to hear them).
A cat is terrorizing someone through a screen door.
I’d like to file a noise complaint against my refrigerator.
Can you tell me the steps for boiling a live chicken?
Can I claim my dog as a dependent on my taxes?
Who won American Idol?
How long does a baseball game typically last?
Can I use Medicaid for my cat’s surgery?
Can you check if my boyfriend is married?
Is there a law limiting how many times you can flush the toilet?
A raccoon is eating lasagna on my porch.
Do dogs see in black & white or in color?
I’d like to report a ghost in my window.
How do I cook a turkey for Thanksgiving?
A goat is tied to the stairwell in my building.
I’d like to report my neighbor for waving to everyone on the block.
If a couple is divorced, can they still live in the same house but in different rooms?
Can someone spray the trees so the leaves stop falling?
Can you transfer me to a “UFO-ologist”?
What is the best pizza near me?
When does Santa land in Manhattan?