311 complaints and delays: Data reveals Chicago zip codes with most unanswered non-emergency calls

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's the number everyone in Chicago is told to call if they have a problem that doesn't require police. 311 calls flood the hotline every day, with reports ranging from weeds and graffiti to potential threats to public safety.

An ABC 7 I-Team Data investigation uncovered which calls are left unanswered and the zip codes with the highest number of open complaints.

It may be a complaint about graffiti, rats, high weeds, aircraft noise, potentially dangerous trees which need trimming or removal and complaints about broken or dim street lights.

The ABC7 I-Team examined one year of 311 call data from Fall of 2019 to Fall of 2020. In that one year time period, there were 1,045,000 complaints reported. Around 94,000, or 9 percent, are categorized as still being "open."

People Like Valencia Tucker are waiting on a resolution to her complaint about dim lights.

"I'm very afraid when I catch the bus and walk home," Tucker said. "It is so scary. You know, walk neighbor down to the street, even our post lady on the corner she's even scared, how bad it is out here."

From the ground level, her Calumet Heights neighborhood looks so dark, you may not even realize that there are street lights above, until we tilt up the camera. Tucker blames newly-installed LED lights.

"I do not like the LED lights, it's not light enough. My neighbors are getting scared and we talked about it. So I said I'm gonna contact Channel 7," Tucker said.

A look at the data shows 3,438 or 10% of complaints concerning street lights not working, listed as open across the city. The Chicago Department of Transportation, which is also responsible for street light complaints, said the 311 data could contain duplicates and also added that street light complaints are broken up into a single street light out, or " all out" complaints, which take priority.

"So I want more lights, brighter lights for safety for our seniors, I am 62 and a half years old," Tucker said.

As for her complaint, the city agreed that the light levels were low, and said a potential solution would be to add "piggy back" lights. Unfortunately, the city also says the "piggy back" lights aren't in the "scope of the Chicago Smart Lighting Program." Funding would need to be identified.

When it comes to overall all 311 calls, Tucker's South Side zip code of 60617 has the second most "open complaints." Her neighboring South Side zip code of 60628 has the most open complaints in the city with 4,921.

The I-Team also found high numbers of open complaints in zip codes on the North Side, like 60634 and 60618. Zip codes with the fewest open complaints are mostly downtown.

The Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which runs 311, says all City of Chicago Departments "work diligently to complete all work orders as quickly as possible and it makes no difference what part of the city the service requests or complaints originate." OEMC adding that its data shows that most requests from 60628 were for tree trimming, a similar request across other zip codes throughout the city, after storms hit in August.
"They promised to send somebody out to take a look. And nothing ever happens," said Meagan Riley, of the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Her zip code of 60620 also ranks as one of the top zip codes with overall open complaints with 3,370. She's currently waiting on a tree removal request. The overgrown roots, she says, damaged pipes in her basement.

"We were having issues with the branches from the trees overhanging our roof," Riley said. "And earlier this year, we noticed that the sidewalks started to buckle. And we call 311 numerous times, we call the aldermen."

Riley showed the I-Team service requests to 311 dating back to January of 2020 , but she started emailing her alderman last year. The Department of Streets and Sanitation said tree removal is weather-based and begins in November, which means it could get to Riley's request soon.

The I-Team found that 47% of all tree removal requests, 1,277 were open. The city says tree trimming and tree removal were on hold in March and April in response to the Governor's stay-at-home-order.

The top complaints to 311? Aircraft noise comes in at No.1, making up 30% of all complaints. And at No. 2 is graffiti, at 9% of complaints. The city said that graffiti calls have increased with civil unrest.

OEMC said that despite civil unrest, a pandemic and several recent storms, it has continued to respond to 311 complaints. OEMC added that the vast majority of requests continue to be completed.

WEB EXTRA: How quickly the city closes a request:
- 61% were closed in less than a day.
- 67% were closed in less than two days.
- 78% were closed in under a week.
- 91% were closed in under a month.

See our interactive map which shows the zip codes with the most open complaints:

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