Police Response Times
Calls for police service are often like a hospital’s Emergency Room. We have a highly trained professional group of men and women at Denver’s Combined Communications Center who answer calls for assistance, gather information, and then classify them in order of urgency. There are numerous levels of calls, the most emergent being labeled as priority 0-3 and then the less emergent as 4-6.
When comparing January through May of 2012 to 2013, the average response times for the highest priority calls (emergencies) has increased from 13 minutes to 15 minutes. The response times for non-emergency calls has increased from an average of 22 minutes to 27 minutes. Obviously, in a business where seconds count – I would like to see these times improve.
However, just like a hospital’s ER, we cannot just serve people in the order they arrived. Unfortunately, we are in a very fluid profession, where some nights there are next to no calls – and others are so busy they can’t take a break. We have to take the most serious calls first, therefore calls involving crimes against persons take priority over property crimes.
The current situation
The police union recently wrote a letter to the Mayor stating that the new Team Policing concept (where officers work together on teams with static days off) is responsible for lengthening waits by people with non-emergency calls for police service. While there is no disputing that wait times have increased, there is also no evidence at all to support the union’s claim. If anything, the team concept will eventually decrease the wait time. We know how long the wait times are and we know why it is happening. Most important to you though, we have a plan to fix it.
I asked our analysts to study the response times issue and they were able to come back with some scientific answers as to why it is taking longer. But the answer isn’t surprising. The single greatest factor, which affects response times, is the number of officers in the department. We have gone from 1,550 officers in 2008 to 1360 (not including those in training at the police academy) today. Think of it like the lines at the grocery story – the fewer checkout lanes that are open – the fewer shoppers they can move through. The good news is that Mayor Hancock and city leaders have already authorized the hiring of 110 police officers in 2013, and once they hit the streets we will immediately see a reduction in response times.
We have also diligently looked at positions officers hold outside the patrol function. In 2013, we were able to identify thirty-eight of those whose duties could be performed by highly trained civilians – thus permitting us to put the officers back on the street – where they can make the biggest difference.
But after looking at the data, we are proposing to go even further. As the budget permits, we are proposing to hire a team of seventeen civilian report writers. People who are highly trained to take over writing about 25% of the reports that officers currently take (like non-injury accidents, petty theft, or burglary cases with no suspect information). This will free the equivalent (in time) of nineteen officers – who can then not only get to calls quicker but focus on crime prevention. We also hope to establish a system where these reports can be made by making an appointment so it is convenient for the citizen and the wait times are taken away altogether.
So the good news is that help is on the way and that we are looking at responsible and efficient ways to improve response times without sacrificing a focus on crime prevention. In the mean time, please know that every call is carefully screened and we strive to respond to calls for service as quickly as possible. I know that this can be frustrating, but I hope that citizens know we are restructuring the department so that it will not only shorten response times but decrease crime.