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APD response times continue to increase

Friday, July 1, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

According to the city of Austin’s latest annual performance review released on June 22, the time it takes Austin police officers to respond to high-priority calls has been steadily increasing over the past five years.

During Fiscal Year 2014-2015, the department missed its goal of responding to emergency and urgent calls within seven minutes and 30 seconds — instead, eking out an average response time of eight minutes and four seconds.

Commander Darryl Jamail, who until recently oversaw the Austin Police Department’s emergency communications division, said 34 seconds lost could have a significant effect on police work.

“It could be the difference between catching a suspect or not catching a suspect, or getting a key piece of information like a license plate or description or something like that,” he said.

Jamail said that between someone dialing 911 and an officer showing up at the scene, there are numerous moments where time can be lost.

“Whether it be (the) processing time it takes for the 911 operator to get the information entered in and transferred over to the dispatcher (or) then the time it takes the dispatcher to read that information and locate an officer to respond,” he said.

It’s hard to pin down a national standard for police response times; the urgency of calls can be classified differently across cities, and populations and city layouts complicate coming to a consensus about what makes a “good” time. An audit of police response times in Denver (with a population roughly double that of Austin’s) found that between 2008 and 2013, the average time it took officers to get to urgent callers rose from 11.4 minutes to 14.3 minutes.

Jamail said the city is always recruiting 911 call takers. But, considering the stresses of the job and starting pay at a little under $18 an hour, call takers can be hard to retain.

Another challenge the department faces is an increasing volume of calls. Last year, Austin handled more than one million 911 calls — the most in its history.

As the city begins to finalize its budget before its deadline of Oct. 1, there are a few items Jamail said could help drive response times back down (in the past five years, the average response time for police was its lowest in 2011, at six minutes and 45 seconds): funds to hire more officers and a study to determine if the department should increase the pay for 911 call takers.

Photo by Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota (Watchful) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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