Zurik: NOPD's average dispatch time reaches 73 minutes

Zurik: NOPD's average dispatch time reaches 73 minutes
Published: Oct. 26, 2015 at 8:54 PM CDT|Updated: Feb. 23, 2016 at 6:24 AM CST
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NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison
NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Imagine calling 911 to report a theft, and then waiting two days, 14 hours and 56 minutes for the police to show up. That happened here in New Orleans. We analyzed police response data for the past five years with our partners at NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune - numbers that show a call to the NOPD doesn't often lead to instant help.

"They kicked the door in," said Brock Laborde, co-owner of The New Movement. It's a St. Claude Ave. comedy club that was targeted by thieves on August 2, 2015.

"Some of our people showed up around noon and then they discovered the break-in had happened," he told us FOX 8 in an August interview.

Police records show, at 1:46 in the afternoon of August 2, 911 operators received a call from the scene.

"They called the police then, and stayed here for about 10 to 11 hours," Laborde said. "And no one ever came."

Those same records show that officers weren't dispatched to the club for another 13 hours, 7 minutes and 11 seconds after the call came in.  They didn't show up until about 3:00 AM.

"The response just wasn't that great," Laborde said.

FOX 8 News and our partners at NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reviewed response time records for the period from January 1, 2011 through the end of September 2015.

What we found: in 2015, NOPD officers were dispatched to citizens' calls, on average, in 1 hour and 13 minutes.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison acknowledges that's a long time to wait. "I will say that," he adds, "on emergency calls - real, life-threatening emergencies - we're still getting to people in a fairly fast response."

But in property crimes, some auto accidents, residential thefts and other quality-of-life incidents – crime victims may find their patience tried.

"We don't want them to," Harrison tells us. "But we have to prioritize."

Comparing response time by year may be even more startling. In 2011, the NOPD dispatched officers at an average 15 minutes, and improved that in 2012 to 13 minutes.  Then dispatch time started to go up: 23 minutes in 2013, 46 minutes in 2014 and then, this year, 73 minutes.

"There are a lot of questions," Chief Harrison tells us. "Number one, it's unacceptable. I acknowledge that, it's not something we run from. We're working every day - we're doing everything we can to create a smart deployment initiative."

One apparent reason for the longer response is the thinning of NOPD's ranks. In 2012, when the NOPD average was 13 minutes, they had 1,327 commissioned officers.   As of this month, they're down by 190 cops to 1,137.

Yet the number of calls they respond to has also dropped significantly, from 473,809 individual calls in 2012 to 284,820 last year.

The data clearly show that some of the more serious calls get top priority with NOPD. Officers are dispatched to the scene for the discharge of a firearm in 6 minutes on average, homicides 8 minutes, and armed robbery 19 minutes.

But many other calls take much more time.  Aggravated rapes take an average of 50 minutes; auto accidents with no injuries, 67 minutes; aggravated assault, 1 hour and 48 minutes; theft, on average, more than 2 hours.

"In cases that matter, like we talked about with the Monkey Hill robbery, with the Atchafalaya robbery, we were there five minutes on one, two minutes on another," Harrison says. "So on those real, life-threatening emergency calls, we're really still doing a good job getting there as fast as we can."

A map (see graphic) shows the parts of the city with the quickest and the longest response times. In New Orleans East and Gentilly, the NOPD takes more time.  Some parts of town, Uptown and Mid-City for instance, have quicker response times, generally speaking.

There's more. In neighboring Jefferson Parish, the response time is much quicker.  Take 2014, when the average response time for the NOPD was about 46 minutes.  In Jefferson Parish, deputies' response time is under 5 minutes. Jefferson Parish has fewer deputies assigned to enforcement - 984 to NOPD's 1,173 commissioned officers - and Jefferson Parish dispatched deputies to more calls than NOPD - 389,109 and 284,820, respectively - but JPSO responded 42 minutes quicker.

"They may have had more calls dispatched, but I do believe we've had way more crime that requires reporting," the NOPD chief comments, "and other serious things that require longer reports like homicide scenes, rape investigations, robbery scenes and shooting scenes that require more work for us to do - more officers to secure those scenes - and handling traffic accidents on the interstate. So, I think it's kind of unfair to compare New Orleans to Jefferson - it's a totally different dynamic there."

Brock Laborde's business was broken into a total of three times this year.  When the NOPD finally responded there, at 3:00 in the morning, they labeled the break-in "unfounded."

"It was shocking to see that they just would show up, when obviously no one's here, and then leave," he told us – a business owner shocked to see the NOPD arrive at the scene in the middle of the night, two hours after his employees gave up hope and left the scene.

"It's always our hope for that to get better," Chief Harrison says.  "I'm always working to make every aspect of the department better… Everything, we're going to get better."

Do slow dispatch times give criminals the idea that they'll have more time to commit their crimes? "Well, especially if they get to watch it on TV," Harrison answers.  "While we're talking about how long it takes then yes, you could argue that.

"I would say that our officers are totally committed to getting to the scene just as fast as we can," he continues. "We're working through the administrative work. We're working to create initiatives to free up their time. We're working to look to see what we can move away from them. We've bought them new cars, all new equipment, to make sure that the equipment deficiencies or the equipment failures are kept to a minimum. So we're doing everything we can to be more effective, to be more efficient.  This is just a problem that we have to add need more police officers to fix - that's coming."

Chief Harrison says the consent decree, domestic violence investigations and body cameras are also reasons for officers having to spend much more time on crime scenes.

The data we analyzed is not technically the response time - it's the time an officer was dispatched to the scene. We also want to point out that, while our analysis counts each phone call for service to the police department, NOPD internally catalogs multiple phone calls on a particular incidents as a single call.

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