The police work behind New York’s citizen-investigation hotline

Fourteen years ago, the New York Police Department was in a crisis. Everyone had come to believe that they had been involved in a cover-up.

Callers to a police hotline were receiving the cold, noncommittal answers, “We are aware of it and we are investigating it.” Soon, Mayor Mike Bloomberg launched an initiative that anyone who called 311 and had felt abused by the police could anonymously file a complaint. The hotline gave people more power over how they were treated by police, and many of them decided to make it a regular part of their lives.

Earlier this week, after The Fixer published a story about giving rise to the 311 hotline, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged that he had no idea how much 311 had helped police investigations, and praised one of the program’s creators, Henry Johnson, for fighting to create the project.

Calls to the department’s nonemergency line for civilian complaints about NYPD conduct, like Mr. Johnson created and continued to operate, have skyrocketed since the program was launched, more than tripling over the past two years. Between February and June of this year, the department received 13,857 calls about the NYPD’s service, compared with 4,667 calls in the same period a year earlier. In two weeks, between Oct. 29 and Nov. 5, the department received an unprecedented 8,034 calls.

Mr. Johnson, an NYPD captain and a former director of the Board of Regents Institute of Criminal Justice Affairs, is too busy for this interview, but his former co-worker tells us that Mr. Johnson “welcomes the public feedback that comes from the department.”

Leave a Comment