This week, Watchdog wants to take a moment to alert Baltimore residents as well as those who spend lots of time in the city about a new way to report problems.
Watchdog often hears a common refrain when talking to residents troubled by something they spotted in their travels: How should they report it?
There's a new answer to that question with the launch of a free iPhone and Android 311 app.
"The primary goal was to provide another tool, another way of access for the citizenry to submit problems to 311 for resolution," said Rico Singleton, Baltimore's chief information officer.
It had been downloaded 700 times as of Friday, he said. According to the site, more than 220 service requests were entered by 4 p.m. Friday.
During tough budget times, city officials are often tempted to pare costs by cutting hours at the 311 call center, Singleton said. But this app, which cost $70,000 to develop and for five years of maintenance, creates another method to report problems beyond calling 311 directly or accessing its website.
With the app, users can report a problem, pinpoint its precise location and upload a photo of the issue.
Before, there was no way for residents to submit pictures to show the severity of a problem or help locate it. This additional information should help city workers who are sent out in response, he said.
"This allows them to dispatch crews more immediately with the right tools and the right people," Singleton said.
The app generates a report in the existing 311 system with a "service request" number and updates with the status of the response.
To check the status of a request, users can enter service request numbers from the app or 311 phone calls online at csr.baltimorecity.gov.
Singleton said the app also provides more government transparency. If you're curious about what bothers other Baltimore residents and visitors, take a look at "recent," which lists a stream of submitted reports.
Those who enter their contact information through the app will receive email or text updates when the problem is addressed, Singleton said.
The app launched with forms for the most commonly reported problems, so some people may still need to call 311 directly within city limits (or 410-396-5352 when elsewhere) from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. The agency plans to add more categories in future updates, Singleton said.
You can also go online to file a report, 24 hours a day, at https://baltimore.customerservicerequest.org.
Is there something in your neighborhood that's not getting fixed? Tell us where the problem is and how long it's been there by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 410-332-6735.