By Tim McNicholas

CHICAGO (CBS) — From sinkholes to heaps of trash, the CBS 2 Morning Insiders have uncovered story after story of 311 complaints marked “completed” – while residents say the job wasn’t actually done.

So CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas started looking for ways Chicago can improve its 311 system – and he found a simple solution the city can deploy to get better.

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A heap of trash including roofing tile near 105th and Throop streets, another one at 110th and Aberdeen streets, and a car left abandoned for months on East 69th Street – these are all 311 requests that the city marked completed. But the jobs were not actually completed until the Morning Insiders exposed them.

For the 411 on 311, we turned to Spencer Stern.

“I’ve been engaged with 311 system for about 20 years,” Stern said.

He is a consultant who has helped cities from San Diego to Chicago improve their 311 systems. He said in Chicago, the technology is top-notch – but there is room for improvement.

“Taking photographs of completed work, I think, is such a critical thing that needs to be done here,” Stern said. “It validates that the work was completed and you can time- and date-stamp the photographs.”

The City of San Diego is already doing that for some requests. They encourage residents to upload a “before” photo, and the city cleanup crews upload the “after” photo.

Alex Hempton works to get it done – San Diego’s version of 311.

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“It really increased the customer satisfaction pretty significantly for those graffiti reports – by around 44 percent – because now people knew what happened and they were very happy with the results,” Hempton said.

So far, San Diego is using the photo feature on graffiti cleanup, but they can expand it to other requests.

“They’re all cloud-based systems, so it’s not going to clog up the system from a space perspective,” Stern said. “The city is already paying for the storage of these photographs.”

Just this week, we found some graffiti in Logan Square. It looked like someone tried to clean it up, but a curse word remained visible.

The request for cleaning up that graffiti was marked “completed” on 311.

In April 2020, Chicago’s 311 was updated so employees could upload images of completed service requests – similar to the program in San Diego. We are waiting to hear back as to whether any city workers have used this feature yet.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which operates the 311 system, said:

“We see the value in having an external-facing component to include photos when service requests are closed and have flagged this topic for future conversations related to our ongoing system enhancements.”

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Tim McNicholas