Almost 1 in 4 APD non-emergency service requests from Oct. 2021-2022 closed due to missed callbacks

Changes are underway to the City of Austin's process for submitting non-emergency service requests. This comes as residents have voiced frustration to FOX 7 over the 311 system and Austin Police Department follow-up.

"I was told that my request was closed out," said Kayvon Rashidi, one resident who said he tried multiple times to get a police response via Austin 311 for issues stemming from a nearby homeless encampment.

Austin 311 is used to field non-emergency calls or crime that is not in progress. Residents can dial 311 or 512-974-2000.

After a 311 ambassador takes a call and creates a 'service request,' if it’s a police matter, the request is sent to APD non-emergency communications. An APD representative returns the call up to two times. If there is no answer on the second try, APD will close the service request and the caller has to start the process over.

"I do not remember getting those calls; I was busy with work," said Sydney, an Austin resident who said she called 311 multiple times regarding ongoing animal abuse in her complex. "I would have gladly called them right back if they would have left a voicemail or something like that, but that's just not how the system works."

The APD representative’s call shows up as an unknown number, which may result in an unanswered call. There is no callback number available.

"Once I missed that second phone call, I was forced to start the process over again," said Sydney. "And by October, unfortunately, I'd already been spending over a year at that point on this one case, so I didn't have time to start the process all over again."

Through a public information request, FOX 7 found that between October 2021 and October 2022, 106,485 APD non-emergency service requests were made through 311. Of those, 24,452 were closed because an APD representative could not reach the person in two tries - almost one in four.

For those specifically requesting a police report, 64,086 service requests were made with 21,527 being closed by APD before a police report was made - roughly one in three.

"It became apparent after the rise of antisemitic activity that the 311 system was not working as well as we would have hoped," said Julie Fleming, co-founder of ATX Kind

The activist group has had similar issues, specifically surrounding the report of hate crimes.

"It’s really important to us that this reporting system works for all marginalized communities," said Fleming.

Their concerns – and ongoing discussion with the city since last January – have helped accelerate changes to the 311 system.

Austin City Council member Alison Alter has been involved in those discussions with ATX Kind regarding 311, a system that fields calls ranging from minor issues to more serious ones.

"It’s how we respond to citizens when they have ‘on-the-ground’ concerns," said Alter. "Whether it's a light being left on at the pool house, trash not being picked up, all sorts of things like that."

According to the City, 311 ambassadors are trained to triage on more than 200 service request types.

Along with improving hate crime reporting, one area city leaders are now focusing on is improving accessibility.

"How might we incorporate text? How might we incorporate social media? How do we make sure that people whose first language is not English are able to access some of these different ways of reaching out to 311 to get their needs met?" said Alter. "So, there's that sort of direction with the resolution that council member Vanessa Fuentes has led on that I was a co-sponsor for."

Fuentes’ resolution was approved by city council in November 2022. Meanwhile, APD plans to make some changes of its own as soon as this spring.

"APD understands the current system has its limitations and is working to implement a new one soon," said an APD spokesperson in a statement to FOX 7. "The new system will simplify and streamline the process for community members to file non-emergency police reports."

According to a city memo, through that new reporting system, a police report will be automatically filed directly with APD based on information provided by the resident - eliminating the need for callbacks from an unknown number.

Currently, there is also a third option for residents to report crime that's not in progress. Last year, APD and 311 began recommending the online "iReport" system.

An APD spokesperson told FOX 7: "iReports are processed and routed to detectives quicker than APD non-emergency service requests entered via Austin 311, simply due to the backlog."

"There’s a lot of different nuances of ways that we're looking at, how do we improve 311, how do we improve iReport and how do we make 911 effective?" said Alter.