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APD Response Time Continues to Rise, Missing Its Goal by More Than 30 Seconds

APD-sirens-lg.jpg
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. for KUT

According to the City of Austin’s latest annual performance review released 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 the 2015 fiscal year, the department missed its goal of responding to emergency and urgent calls within seven minutes 30 seconds, instead eking out an average response time of eight minutes and four seconds.

Commander Darryl Jamail, who until recently oversaw APD’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 between someone dialing 9-1-1 and an officer showing up at the scene, there are numerous moments where time can be lost.

“Whether it be processing time it takes for the 9-1-1 operator to get the information entered in and transferred over to the dispatcher and 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 9-1-1 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 a million 9-1-1 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 says 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 9-1-1 call takers.

This story was produced as part of KUT's partnership with the Austin Monitor.

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