2022 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Small Newsroom finalist

Ignored, Dismissed

About the Project

This months-long investigation uncovered the New York City Police Department’s chronic mishandling of quality-of-life complaints submitted through 311, the city’s municipal services and information center. In particular, the story showed how the police neglect 311 complaints about driver misconduct, allowing a culture of lawlessness to grow on city streets as local traffic deaths climbed to their highest point in years.

Reporter Jesse Coburn’s analysis of millions of rows of city data revealed that the NYPD routinely files false responses to complaints, that officers annually close thousands of driver misconduct reports faster than they could conceivably address them, and that the number of questionable responses has exploded in recent years.

Interviews with dozens of current and former city officials, activists, attorneys, and residents yielded further revelations, including a pattern of harassment from anonymous callers that 311 users have faced after filing complaints to the NYPD.

An extensive review of city records showed that the city has known for years about deep resident dissatisfaction with the NYPD’s handling of 311, yet the problems have persisted.

The story also documents the consequences of police apathy toward resident complaints. This reporting yielded the discovery that the high-profile death of a cyclist in 2018 was preceded by more than a dozen reports about unsafe conditions on the street where a driver fatally struck her—reports that the NYPD had ignored. Her mother had been unaware of those 311 complaints until Streetsblog contacted her. Her response encapsulated what was at stake in this story: “If the police don’t take these complaints seriously, then what? More people get killed or seriously injured?”