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 V.14 No.33 | August 18 - 24, 2005 

Feature

The City's 3-1-1 Citizen Contact Center

Info at your fingertips

Scott Rickson

When is it best to make a tee time at a public golf course? Where is the best place to park for a play at the KiMo? What's the difference between the zoo and the BioPark?

The city of Albuquerque now spends $3.6 million a year on a program that's dedicated to bringing you the answers to these and thousands of other questions relating to our fine metropolis.

Albuquerque residents can dial 3-1-1, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and be connected to the Citizen Contact Center, where trained call center employees will try to answer their nonemergency city inquiries.

But what types of questions can be answered? The general manager of the Citizen Contact Center, Michael Padilla, says the service can be used to report an abandoned vehicle, find out the hours of operation for the BioPark and get information on city-run recreation programs, among other things.

Padilla, who was clearly juiced about the program and its benefits, says inquiring minds can also call 3-1-1 to learn what city department is best equipped to handle a water leak, power outage, yard debris pickup, etc. If they don't have the answer to your question about basic services, they'll direct you to the city department that does.

The other primary goal of the center, according to Padilla, is to decrease the congestion at the 9-1-1 emergency call center by providing a three-digit number specifically designed for nonemergencies. Padilla was also quick to point out, however, that all crime-related nonemergencies that require the police are still best handled by calling 242-COPS.

That seems all well and good, but what are the limits of 3-1-1? Is it simply an all-encompassing super number that renders all phone books and possibly the Internet obsolete? Or is it a needless jobs program and waste of tax dollars with little to offer your average Albuquerque citizen?

The Alibi put 3-1-1 to the test to see how helpful it truly is. A few seconds after dialing, I was greeted by a cheerful and professional woman eager to assist me. I asked her what I would need to take to the MVD to get my license. She said the MVD was a state-run entity that she didn't have much information on, but she did give me the MVD's general information number. She also provided me with phone numbers for Isotopes baseball, the Rape and Family Crisis Center, several public pools and she went through a step-by-step process on how to go online to look at pets I might want to adopt from an animal shelter.

Perhaps most impressively, she said if I felt that an Albuquerque police officer had violated my rights, I could call 3-1-1 and she would fill out a police complaint form and file it with the Department of Internal Affairs.

But don't torch your phone books just yet. She was unable to give me a number for any local hospitals and when I asked what time public parks closed, she said she didn't think that they had closing times. When I called back to make sure this was true, I talked to another woman who said the only information she had was that different parks have different closing times and that those times should be posted at the specific park. She also had no information, or phone number, for poison control or where to get the morning-after pill.

It is also worth noting that, with few exceptions, such as the aforementioned 'Topes, 3-1-1 has no information on local businesses, whether you're looking for cab companies, pizza places, auto mechanics or the like.

Even with more than 70 full-time employees, the 3-1-1 call center isn't the only place to turn for info on the Duke City. Much of the information provided by the operators is available online at the Citizen Contact Center's website, abq.gov/crm. Padilla suggests that people with questions should first look to the website for answers and then, if nothing turns up, call 3-1-1.

Our overall grade for user-friendliness is somewhere around a B+ to an A-. It isn't a one-stop shop for all things Albuquerque, but it does provide some quick answers and useful information for local citizens. Whether it's worth the $3.6 million annual operating budget is still up for debate, in my opinion. It certainly is reassuring to know there are dedicated people ready and eager to help you with your pursuit for basic services.

Padilla says the call center received 45,321 calls in the month of July. Give 3-1-1 a try. It's simple, free and the operators seem to really enjoy doling out info.

Here's a list of some of our favorite questions and the responses of the seemingly unflappable 3-1-1 operators:

Why do they call it the Duke City?

One second, let me try and find that. It seems to have something to do with the duke that helped found the city.

Is the BioPark the same as the zoo?

The BioPark consists of the zoo, the aquarium and the botanic gardens.

When does the State Fair start?

I don't have that information, but I can give you the number for the State Fair and I'm sure they can help you. 265-1791.

What's the name of the lizards I see running around with stripes on them?

I don't know, but I can connect you to the Animal Services department if you would like.

If I only have $50 to spend and I need to put my in-laws in a hotel for the night, how do I avoid putting them up in a prostitute-infested inn?

That's a private industry thing. You'd have to talk to someone like 4-1-1 about that.

Where can I buy one of those giant pots in the middle of I-40?

If it's on I-40, you'd have to talk to the State Transportation Department about that. I can get that number for you; hold for just one second.

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