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San Diego police response times worst they’ve been in more than a decade

Last fiscal year, San Diego police response times were the longest in more than a decade.

A review of police response times recorded in city budget documents over 14 years showed that while officers still arrive at emergencies such as fatal shootings within minutes, response times to all other types of calls have surpassed by far the department benchmarks.

In fiscal year 2022, police took, on average, about 40 minutes to respond to Priority 1 calls, a group that includes serious crimes such as domestic violence and child abuse. That’s more than double the department’s target time of 14 minutes and three times the police response time for Priority 1 calls in 2009.

Officers took more than two hours to respond to Priority 2 calls, which involve less serious crimes such as trespassing and prostitution, last financial year. The department’s goal is 27 minutes, according to city budget documents.

Police were also slow last year to respond to Priority 3 and Priority 4 calls — categories that include reports of loud parties, injured animals, parking violations and other smaller incidents.

The record numbers come as the department faces its worst officer shortage since 2009. In fiscal year 2022, more than 230 San Diego police officers will leave the department — a 52 percent increase from the previous year.

Police leaders say the agency’s staffing struggles are an undeniable factor, but there are other reasons why response times have steadily increased.

Over the past several years, officers have been called upon to monitor an increasing amount of data after interacting with the public. This includes mandates set by state laws such as the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, which requires police agencies across California to record information about people they stop, including gender, perceived race and the reason they are stopped. stopped the person. Officers are also required to report incidents of use of force more thoroughly and record body-worn camera footage.

The requirements were put in place to boost accountability and transparency, and while many police leaders support the changes, they could be time-consuming, officials say.

Inexperience also plays a role. More than a third of San Diego officers have been with the department for five years or less, police leaders said, and younger officers need more time to handle calls — especially if those calls are complicated, like those involving financial crimes or people experiencing mental health emergencies.

Long response times can affect public safety and relationships between officers and community members, police leaders said. Officers who do not arrive soon enough may miss the opportunity to stop a crime. And long waits can compromise the collection of evidence, making it harder to solve cases.

A Rancho Peñasquitos resident told the Union-Tribune he believes if officers had responded more quickly to calls for a burglary at a nearby condominium last month, a 45-year-old woman would still be alive. Nahal Connie Dadkhah was found dead in her apartment on June 15. Several neighbors called 911 the night before after a man screaming at Dadkhah’s door broke into her home. The man was later identified as her suspected killer.

It took police about an hour and 40 minutes from the first call to get to Dadkah’s apartment, call records show. The call was initially dispatched as a Priority 2 call, but was later upgraded to a Priority 1. Once officers arrived, they attempted to make contact with the woman and the suspect for about 15 minutes and, after being unable to make contact with either person, left .

Because long response times can create stress for officers, department heads say the supervisor’s role is extremely important.

“We don’t want officers to take shortcuts or create situations where their safety or the safety of others is at risk by making rash decisions to clear calls faster,” said San Diego Police Chief Jeffrey Jordan.

Police and community leaders say if the situation doesn’t improve, it could lead to residents distrusting the police, which is already an issue in some communities.

“The immediate impact is anger and it leads to questions about their personal safety and the trust they have in the San Diego Police Department,” Jordon said.

Bishop Cornelius Bowser, a longtime advocate of police reform, agrees. He said while the department may have different categories for different types of calls, those aren’t typically distinctions that community members make when they call officers for help.

“These are serious incidents and it looks to them like officers are not showing up,” Bowser said.

Some College-area residents who routinely call the police on loud parties recently said police response times have been so poor for so long that getting help in a reasonable amount of time has begun to seem like a fantasy. The last year the department met all response time benchmarks was 2013, according to data.

Community members pointed to an incident late last month when at least one resident called the police about a loud party on Art Street, but officers never arrived. Hours later, 18 year old Kevin Barton, a recent graduate of Grossmont High School, was fatally shot while leaving the rally. Police responded within minutes to the shooting.

“It’s this feeling of helplessness,” said Molly Linberg, who grew up in the College District and returned at the start of the pandemic. “It’s like we have no recourse and it’s kind of scary. It’s scary.”

Linberg said she doesn’t blame the Police Department for the long wait. Instead, he feels city officials haven’t done enough to recruit and retain officers.

City officials have said in the past that Mayor Todd Gloria has invested in a variety of initiatives designed to recruit and retain police officers, including a 10 percent pay raise in the most recent police contract, proposed bonuses for lateral moves from other police jurisdictions and increasing the budget for recruitment.

Department leaders employ a number of strategies to deal with long waits.

Jordan said officers from specialty units throughout the department have been pulled out for patrol so the department can better monitor calls. The SWAT team, which responds to high-risk incidents. the engine unit, which provides traffic enforcement; and others have been affected.

Some police officials have expressed concern about this suspension measure. They say officers should respond to people’s calls for help. But they also need time to get out of their patrol cars to build relationships with the residents they serve.

“We’re at the point where we’re just chasing 911 calls,” Jared Wilson, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, said last month. “We don’t really do a lot of proactive policing or patrolling. It’s really toxic to our community, to community trust.”

Long wait times also affect officer satisfaction, Jordon says.

“Officers want to be connected to the communities they serve,” the captain said. “They want to feel like they’re making a positive difference in other people’s lives. And when they can’t get to the calls in time—or when they get there, but maybe it’s too late—they start to lose the sense that they’re part of something bigger. That sense of connection.”

Some calls for service are now handled online, so officers don’t have to respond at all. For example, some non-injury crashes and identity theft reports are funneled into the department’s electronic reporting system so officers can focus on responding to other calls.

The department is also investigating whether civilian staff members can take over some non-violent crime investigation duties that officers are currently responsible for.

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