NYC to allow citizens to upload photos during 911 and 311 calls

Published 22 January 2007

Breakthrough concept relies on established technology to help diffuse information; photos of suspicious individuals can be quickly uploaded to dispatch authorities; citizens protect infrastructure by keeping their eyes (and apertures) open

Technology marches on, and sometimes in the simplest ways. Consider for a minute New York City’s 911 and 311 telephone lines. The former, just as it is in every American city, summons the police or fire department. The latter, in place since 2003, acts as a service line for city residents to call about non-emergency issues such as the status of opposite side of the street parking or to report a dangerous condition in an abandoned building. Both are popular (for different reasons, obviously) and both received a boost this week when the city announced that it would incorporate into those systems the ability to receive digital video and photographs from callers — a national first. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it a “revolutionary innovation in crime fighting.”

The technology involved is already mature, so this is more a conceptual feat than a mechanical one, and with video and picture-taking cell phones almost the national standard, it just makes perfect sense to take advantage of the home-grown resource. This way, if a person takes a picture of a suspicious person loitering at a city landmark, the photo can be quickly uploaded to dispatch officials who, in turn, can provide officers on the scene with a perfect desciption and, perhaps, even send the photo along to the squad car computer. “Imagine someone caught in a hostage situation transmitting pictures or video,” said counterrorism consultant Jerome M. Hauer. “It’s just an incredible amount of information that can be gathered from fairly simple technology.”

-read more in Ray Rivera’s New York Times report