September 14, 2013 Updated: September 14, 2013 at 1:45 pm
Colorado Springs residents who have a dire emergency and call police for help are waiting longer for officers to arrive than two years ago.
The Colorado Springs Police Department's response times for the most urgent calls have increased by two minutes since 2011 and by as much as 24 minutes for other types of calls for service, according to documents obtained by The Gazette.
The average response time for Priority 1 calls, which represent a life-threatening situation requiring an immediate response, such as a bank robbery or sexual assault in progress, was about 10 minutes and 40 seconds in 2011.
Response times for Priority 1 calls have jumped by two minutes since then.
"Although response times are complicated and there are many contributing factors, the best explanation is that patrol workload has remained relatively stable while our staffing has decreased," Molly Miles, the police department's crime analysis supervisor, said in an email.
"Additionally, Priority 1 and Priority 2 calls for service have steadily increased during the same time, so in essence, we have less people to complete more complex work," she said.
Priority 2 calls include in-progress felony calls with potentially dangerous circumstances but without an apparent life threat, such as a theft in progress, police spokeswoman Barbara Miller said.
Priority 3 calls are for minor incidents requiring a response that is dispatched based on the availability of patrol units, such as a burglar alarm, she said.
Priority 4 is generally reserved for administrative purposes, she said. A response may or may not be required, but the call requires documentation, she said.
Response times for Priority 2 calls have increased by about 15 minutes. For Priority 3 and Priority 4 calls, response times have jumped by about 23 minutes and 24 minutes, respectively.
Last year, the police department documented 272,732 calls for service, including 48,955 Priority 1 calls.
In the first quarter of 2013, police responded to 12,329 Priority 1 calls, which means the police department is on pace to exceed the number of Priority 1 calls for service this year.
The police department does not have a specific goal for how long it should take to respond to Priority 1 calls.
"We manage our patrol resources to respond to these calls as quickly as we can based on the specific circumstances of the call," Miller said.
"CSPD's goal is to be responsive to community needs, which means . that we arrive as quickly as we can, restore order and increase feelings of safety and security, complete quality investigation and solve crimes, prevent future crime whenever possible, respond compassionately and refer crime victims to additional resources," she said.
It's unclear how Colorado Springs stacks up to similarly-sized cities.
Comparing response times is difficult to do, Miller said.
"First, not every agency calculates response time in the same manner," she said in an email.
"CSPD calculates response time from the time a call comes in to the time the officer arrives at the location of the incident. Some other agencies calculate a 'queue' time for the time it takes from receipt of call to dispatch of the officer and then a 'response' time for the time it takes from dispatch to arrival," she said.
Second, there is no standard among law enforcement agencies about what constitutes a Priority 1 call.
"If we were to compare with other agencies, we are not necessarily comparing the time it takes to respond to the same calls," Miller said.
Finally, any comparison would have to include cities that are similarly sized not just in population but geography, she said.
"The travel time in a jurisdiction that covers 190 square miles is much greater than in a jurisdiction that covers 60, which obviously impacts response time," she said.
The police department has a multipronged approach to try to reduce response times, Deputy Chief Mark Smith said in an email. The strategy includes expanding the Community Service Officer program to free up officers to respond to higher priority calls and rolling out a new crime prevention program in high crime areas, among other methods, he said.
"We are currently examining our staffing levels, schedules and strategies within the Patrol Bureau in an effort to find ways to more efficiently match up our resources with the call-for-service load that we face," he said.
The department is also analyzing its call priority list this year "to determine whether or not we need to make adjustments to how calls are categorized and prioritized," he said.
Good police work requires an investment in time, Smith said.
"We ask our patrol officers to do thorough preliminary investigations and the appropriate follow-up on the crimes they respond to. We want them to spend the necessary time with victims, witnesses, etcetera, to do a good job on a call," he said.
"The idea is to more effectively solve crime and reduce disorder issues in order to positively impact the overall number of calls we receive - hopefully helping to reduce our response times. It is also the right thing to do from a customer service perspective. But there is a trade-off with this approach. The time our officers spend conducting follow-up, problem-solving, etcetera, means that response times to priority 2, 3 and 4 calls can tend to increase. So, we have to manage the trade-off between getting there as quickly as we can, and doing a thorough job once we arrive."
Contact Daniel J. Chacon 476-1623