Kiama Doyle was ticked off when her Nissan Rogue sport-utility vehicle was stolen outside her mother’s Far South Side home.
But what really made her mad was that when she’d call the city’s non-emergency 311 call center, she couldn’t get the cops in the city’s Alternate Response Section to take a police report.
According to city records and her own phone logs, Doyle made 20 calls and spent a total of four hours on the phone — repeatedly being hung up on by city employees.
Finally, she got an emergency 911 operator to step in and get a supervisor to put her in touch with a police officer who took her report — but not before the 911 operator got hung up on, too — four times.
“It was disgusting how I was treated,” Doyle says.
The city’s 311 center, which is run by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, is the first point of contact for someone who tries to make a police report over the phone.
According to city officials, callers can have a 311 operator transfer them to the Alternate Response Section, which is run by the police department and staffed by cops. Or they can automatically be transferred by pressing the number 7.
But just getting through to a 311 operator in the first place can take a long time. In some months this year, callers have experienced long delays in getting through to the 311 system.
February was the worst. That month, people made more than 238,000 calls to the 311 center. Those calls took an average of three minutes and 21 seconds to answer. About 20% of the callers gave up trying. Only 41% were able to get through to an operator within the agency’s own standard of 41 seconds or less.
In March, it took almost three minutes, on average, for the 311 center to answer calls.
The city would not provide performance figures for the Alternate Response Section.
Doyle, 41, says her ex-husband, a retired Chicago police sergeant, gave her tips on how to approach filing and obtaining a copy of a police report. It didn’t help.
Her problems with getting a police report came after her SUV was stolen in late March. Her 81-year-old mother had flown back to Chicago from a visit with Doyle in Phoenix, where she now lives, and noticed her daughter’s vehicle no longer was parked on the street near her home in the 12300 block of South Indiana Avenue.
According to city records, two other cars have been reported stolen this year within two blocks of Doyle’s mother’s home. No one has been arrested, which isn’t unusual. Of more than 9,100 vehicles stolen in Chicago from January to mid-May, arrests have been made in fewer than 4% of the time.
So Doyle realized she’d probably never again see her SUV, which had 41,000 miles on it, and that the odds were slim anyone would be arrested. But she needed a police report for her insurance company.
She asked her mother to go to the 5th district police station to report the vehicle stolen. But her mother was told she couldn’t file a report because she didn’t own the SUV. So, on March 31, Doyle tried to file a police report by phone from Arizona. That was her first call to 311.
Chicago’s 311 center was established more than two decades ago to allow 911 operators to concentrate on life-and-death calls. Till then, about 20% of 911 calls in Chicago were for non-emergencies.
The 311 center gets millions of calls a year from people reporting all sorts of problems — graffiti that needs to be removed, noisy planes overhead, street lights that are out, potholes that need filling.
Anyone who calls to file a non-emergency police report gets transferred to the Alternate Response Section, staffed by about 220 Chicago cops on “permanent light duty” for medical reasons or there because of a pending disciplinary case that’s seen them stripped of their police powers.
Doyle’s cellphone records show she spent more than four hours on the phone before a city employee finally confirmed her police report had been filed and sent to a police “hot desk” that keeps information on stolen vehicles.
The first person she spoke with — it’s unclear whether it was a 311 operator or a cop — asked whether her boyfriend might have taken her car, Doyle says. Insulted by the question, she says she asked to speak with a supervisor and was hung up on. She says she kept calling 311 and got hung up on 16 more times.
She says she reached an officer in the Alternate Response Section who told her that her license plate sticker was expired and that she needed to go to a police station, get a citation for the violation, pay the ticket, buy a new sticker, then call back about her stolen vehicle.
Doyle says the officer ended the call by saying, “I told you what to do,” and hung up.
She says she called 311 three more times and got hung up on each time, then tried 911.
According to that recorded call, which the Chicago Sun-Times obtained from City Hall, the 911 operator told Doyle, “You’re my seventh call about this,” referring to others also having trouble reaching the Alternate Response Section.
The 911 operator tried to call the 311 center herself to help. But she got hung up on, too.
The operator took Doyle’s name and information about her missing SUV and said she’d let her supervisor know.
“He’s gonna call over there and get in touch with a supervisor for you, and you’ll have a supervisor call you, so you can get your report taken,” the 911 operator told her.
When a supervisor came on the line, the 911 operator said, “I’ve been on the phone with her, and we got hung up on four times.”
Later, Doyle told the 911 operator, “Thank you so much for your effort.”
“No problem,” the operator said. “I hope you have a better day.”
A 911 supervisor contacted Doyle, took her information and told her she’d hear from 311. About 45 minutes later, a Chicago police officer in the Alternate Response Section filled out a report, Doyle says.
She says the 911 supervisor followed up, even though 911 doesn’t normally handle calls about stolen vehicles, telling her, “I will make sure everything is done, and this is resolved today.”
About an hour later, someone at the 911 center called back to confirm a report had been filed, Doyle says.
She says she gave the report to her insurance company, which paid off her remaining debt on her car loan for the SUV.
Doyle says she called the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability to file a complaint. A COPA spokesman says Doyle’s complaint was referred to the police Bureau of Internal Affairs. It closed its investigation without disciplinary action being taken.
The Sun-Times asked police officials: Is this woman’s experience an indication of how people are treated when they try to file a crime report by phone?
The police responded: “Chicago Police Department members are expected to conduct themselves professionally and treat all individuals with fairness and respect. Residents are also reminded that they can file non-emergency reports online or at any of CPD’s 22 district stations.”
Asked about delays in police reports getting taken over the phone, the police blamed “the COVID-19 pandemic,” saying the Alternate Response Section “was temporarily relocated to the Education and Training Academy facility. Because of the relocation and technical limitations, there was a reduction in how many calls ARS [was] able to take at one time.”
But they say it returned to its home on West Lexington Street April 19 “and is able to hold callers on the line until a representative is available.”
According to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, 311 call volume was up nearly 30% in the first three months of 2021 over 2020 because it was answering calls about coronavirus testing and vaccine-related questions and because of “a significant spike in calls throughout the extended severe cold and snowfall in January and February with residents calling to request snow removal, warming center information, no heat complaints, well-being checks, etc.”
City officials didn’t provide information about the Alternate Response Section’s call volume.