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Is Gentrification Fueling More 311 Calls & Police Harassment?

Dashed Arrow lempkin/ flickr

Putting up with noisy neighbors in New York is nothing new, nor is the hand-wringing about what do to about it. Some research suggests that gentrifiers are more likely to call 311 about quality of life issues than long time locals, which can lead to more encounters with the police. A 2015 working paper found that in NYC neighborhoods that are more racially diverse, people call 311 instead of talking to their neighbors. One of the paper's authors, the social scientists Joscha Legewie, told CityLab, “Instead of going to your neighbor and asking them to turn the music down, you’re reaching out to an external authority to intervene...Probably because you don’t feel comfortable knocking on their door.”

In 2017, Harvard sociology professor Robert Sampson told The Atlantic “There’s some evidence that 311 and 911 calls are increasing in gentrifying areas...that makes for a potentially explosive atmosphere with regard to the police.”

Now, a new Buzzfeed News data analysis of NYC 311 calls between 2015 and 2017 found "a dramatic increase in 311 quality-of-life complaints" in gentrifying blocks in Harlem and Bushwick. "Tracts that gentrified have received more complaints per capita than those that didn’t, according to BuzzFeed News’ analysis of Census and 311 data."

311 does not collect data on the race or income of the person calling, so there is no way to know for sure the demographics of the callers. And while not all 311 calls lead to police action, police officers will respond to 311 calls when not handling emergencies.

The NYPD has claimed for years that police presence, and arrests, are the result of 911 and 311 calls, despite ample evidence that there are big racial disparities in arrests.

“One officer told me that someone kept calling so they had to show up,” Harlem resident Cheo Ledesma told Buzzfeed, explaining that police were breaking up informal social gatherings on his blocks because of noise complaints. “The cops are bothering us because [someone has] an issue with dominoes? Are you kidding me?”

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