311 Reports in SF by Neighborhood 2008-2016, by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

Data from SFData.gov



On 311

311 emerged in the 1980s across the United States when urban leaders began endeavoring to reduce nonemergency 911 calls. When Bloomberg was elected in New York in 2002, he promulgated use of the hotline. Backing it with resources and a highly publicized rollout, Bloomberg's 311 became a huge success, and was quickly disseminated in other large cities.

There are nearly 300 cities with a 311 system or a similar infrastructure that use customer relations management technology to track service requests (See Newcombe 2014). While only large cities could afford 311 at first, decrease in technology costs resulted in smaller municipalities using the service as well. The economic recession caused some cities such as New Orleans and Detroit to pull the service, but in recent years, the technology is spreading once more. Cities that have already been implementing 311 are now incorporating social media and apps into its infrastructure.

311 was introduced to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco in 2000. The budget for implementation was approved in 2005, and there was a citywide kickoff in September. Under Mayor Gavin Newsom and then City Administrator Ed Lee, the program was publicly launched in 2007. Online services began in 2008, and it began using Twitter in 2009.

In 2013, Mayor Lee launched the the Open311 platform for mobile apps. As the Office of the Mayor reported, "The new SF311 app for residents and visitors to San Francisco allows users to quickly and easily report quality of life issues by sending pictures, a brief description and a map-based location. Whether reporting issues such as graffiti, potholes, or street cleaning, the City’s new SF311 app simplifies and streamlines the process, ensuring it routes directly to the appropriate servicing agency for quicker response time. The user can view the status of the case in the app and receive a notification of its completion. . . In addition to being able to talk to a live Customer Service Representative by phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year in over 170 languages, the public can use Twitter, Facebook, the Web, and now the mobile SF311 app. The new SF311 App is available on both Apple iPhone and Android platforms and can be downloaded for free from the Apple iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store, respectively."

On the "Broken Windows" Theory

The "Broken Windows" theory was first advanced in 1982 in an article by social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling, - the idea being that close monitoring and maintenance of urban environments will stop more serious crimes from occurring.  The theory goes that if a window is broken and left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken, looting and further damage will occur; untended property is fair game for vandals and criminals. Kelling went on to be hired by the New York Transit Authority to implement his theory, and at that time, in the 1980s, graffiti on subways was targeted as a sort of "broken window" that if fixed would improve the "quality of life" in NYC. Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani appointed William Bratton of the transit police  as his police commissioner to implement “quality of life" and "zero tolerance" policies across NYC.

Focusing on petty crimes and graffiti, the New York policies have been debated on many points, including validity, effectiveness, racial and economic bias, and most recently as the motivation for "Stop and Frisk" policing in New York.  Nevertheless, the theory has been accepted in many cities, and is held by many to be central to the process of gentrification.  Communities of color, youth and working people are often targeted by policies that that promote the inflation of real estate prices, while powerful real estate interests, and certain City government representatives promote any development that increases profits and the tax base.

Incidentally, as written about by the Community Rejuvenation Project, William Bratton was hired as a consultant to Oakland in 2013 at the same meeting that Oakland passed an anti-graffiti ordinance.

Broken Windows policing has been getting much attention in the recent months, after the chokehold murder of Eric Garner in New York by police was captured on video.  Garner had been harassed for selling cigarettes, and was one of many residents exhausted by the constant police attention to petty crimes. In Miami, police murdered graffiti mural artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez after catching him painting in the street.