Police response slows, as Austin grows

Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the US. As more people move here, it puts greater strain on the limited resources of the city, and the city infrastructure just cannot keep up with the population growth. Consequently, police response times are increasing.

My friend Ed sent me this article:

On Friday evening, four of the 10 officers working in Northwest Austin responded to a top-priority call, meaning 40 percent of all that area’s officers were busy at the time. In that sector, Adam, records show it takes an average of nearly 7.5 minutes from the time someone calls 911 to the time police arrive for a top priority call.

Think about that. Not only is it taking 7.5 minutes to respond…

“If they’re calling up and there’s a burglary in their residence, seven minutes is an eternity,” said Commander Donald Baker.

…but almost half of the officers on duty are focused on a single incident.

In the Adam and Edward sectors, officers responded to nearly 93,000 calls in 2013. Each shift should have about 12 officers on patrol, but Baker said he’s not fully staffed and many times officers are off for vacation, sick time, military leave or training.

93,000 calls in 1 year. For the sake of discussion, let’s over-simplify some math. Let’s assume then there was 46,500 calls per sector. That then breaks down to just under 4000 calls per month, about 120 calls per day, about 5 calls per hour, 1 call every 12 minutes. And 60% of those 12 minutes are taken up in merely responding. But of course, when police arrive on the scene, they aren’t going to be there for a mere 5 minutes. And when nearly half of the officers on duty are responding to a single event, and when they can’t even be fully staffed during a shift, when a response may require calling officers from other sectors and now those other sectors are even more understaffed… can you see why police response time is deteriorating?

Note, this is also average response time. That means some response times will be faster, and some slower.

“I found that to be a little bit long to wait for an attack, basically,” said Austin resident Devin Richardson describing the last time she called police.

Richardson said she’s called police at least twice in the last nine months. The first time it took 20 minutes for them to respond to a domestic disturbance at a neighbor’s house. The second time, she said, it took nearly an hour an a half after a neighbor’s dog attacked her daughter.

“As a mother of three who are very young, it definitely concerns me that it takes so long to get here for something,” Richardson said.

As well, consider this is response time. There’s more time involved. You experience the event, you have to register that police need to be called. You have to get to a phone. You have to dial 911. You have to wait for 911 to pick up and actually connect you to an operator. You have to relay all the information, which then the operator must process and then relay to a dispatcher. Then the dispatcher must relay the information out to the police. All those things? They take time too… precious seconds, precious minutes. The total response time has increased.

I’m not trying to be hard on the police. They have a tough job, and this is just an unfortunate numbers game where they are getting the short end of things. Does this mean Austin needs more police on the street? Certainly. But even if they get the additional 59 officers proposed in next year’s budget, that doesn’t amount to much. Consider some officers will retire or leave APD. Divide the new hires over multiple sectors, multiple shifts, and the net gain per sector per shift is perhaps 1 officer. It’s something, but barely.

Baker and and those who live in the area agree that as Austin continues to develop and grow, something needs to change sooner rather than later.

If something happens and it takes them over an hour and a half to get here, what am I supposed to do?” asked Richardson.

Emphasis added.

I’ll tell you what you need to do.

You need to stop relying on the police to be your savior. It’s sorely evident they cannot be there when you need them. Will they try? Yes. Most police will work to protect and serve, and will do all they can to help you. But the painful reality is in the numbers, and the police simply cannot be there and respond in the seconds needed to intervene in a life-threatening situation.

This isn’t just a call to “get a gun, learn how to use it effectively, get a carry license, and carry everywhere”. Yes, I think that’s part of it. But it also is a call to do things like get first aid training, and training beyond putting band-aids on boo-boos (learn how to use a tourniquet; how to treat burns; etc.). It’s taking steps to make your home a less-inviting home for burglars (illuminate your exterior, get and use an alarm system, etc.). It’s a commitment to make changes in your life that invite less trouble (e.g. “don’t go to stupid places, don’t hang out with stupid people, don’t do stupid things” — i.e. stay away from 6th Street).


But it really starts with an acknowledgement that your personal safety is your own responsiblity — you cannot and should not put it in solely the hands of others because, despite their best desires, they just may not be able to be there when you need them.

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